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Ada County Paramedics Cope with Internal Tragedy After Two Commit Suicide

Sorrow spurs new emphasis on mental health

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In Weston's 30 years with Ada County Paramedics, he has experienced three co-worker suicides. The first took place in the early '90s. A friend and colleague of his had gone on a call involving a car accident. When they arrived on scene, the passenger couldn't be saved. The passenger happened to be Weston's colleague's next door neighbor growing up.

"He lasted here another nine months and quit EMS," Weston said. "A year later, he was dead from suicide."

Cases like that present a real problem when trying to determine the rate of suicide among paramedics, because so many of them take their lives after they've left the field.

"We identify who we are as what we do," Weston said. "We get those two things mixed up, and I think that's damaging. We have the same frailties as all other human beings. We need the same care that we're here to give."

The Achilles Heel
Paramedics view themselves as the fixers of the world, according to Weston. Rayne agrees.

When Rayne first started as a paramedic, he only hung out with other EMTs and paramedics. They're the only other people who "get it."

"And it's really fun," Rayne said. "When I first came on, I said I'd work as much as they wanted me to because it was really exciting, but after five years, I realized it had taken a toll. My entire group of friends were only paramedics. That view of the world becomes the only view you know."

Weston said that's a dangerous trap to fall into—one that can have profound effects on first responders' well being.

"We are invited to whatever catastrophe is happening at the moment," Weston said. "All of the sudden, the worst of what can happen to anyone is right on the plate in front of you, every day."

He said the general public views emergencies and disasters from a distance, seeing a story on TV or reading about it in the newspaper.

"That's a different view from being front-and-center in the middle of what's happened," Weston said. "And it's difficult to keep a distance, to understand this isn't the norm of the world."

Donna Sellers was a paramedic in the Treasure Valley for 17 years before she committed suicide on Sept. 6, 2014. Outgoing, active and energetic, her death came as a shock to her colleagues.
  • Donna Sellers was a paramedic in the Treasure Valley for 17 years before she committed suicide on Sept. 6, 2014. Outgoing, active and energetic, her death came as a shock to her colleagues.

That perception starts to work its way into all aspects of a paramedic's life. Weston remembered back to the year before his daughter was born. He went on 10 calls in which babies had fallen victim to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

That contributed to a high level of paranoia after his daughter was born.

"I kept that baby monitor 6 inches away from my head on full volume," he said. "If she made any noise whatsoever, I was wide awake and checking on her."

Weston said the calls that really stuck with him involved victims similar in age to his children. In his three decades with the county, he only ever had to leave his shift early after a hard call once.

"The issue wasn't the patient, the issue was me," he said. "I went on a call where an 18-month-old toddler had her throat cut on purpose in an attempt to kill her. My daughter was just a little bit older than that at the time. It was so far out of bounds for me that anything like that could ever happen in the world, let alone Boise, Idaho."

The girl survived the injury, but the images from that day still play vividly in Weston's mind.

He was also affected by a call where a 2-year-old had drowned in a hot tub, around the same time his daughter was that age.

"In that circumstance, you're working on your child in your mind," Weston said. "But I don't know what the difference was between me and Brian—why I was resilient and he wasn't."

When particularly traumatic calls likes those come in, Weston requires his paramedics to see a counselor within a few days. The paramedics who responded to Peterson after he completed his suicide were required to take the rest of the day off and speak to someone.

That someone is social worker and therapist Alan Leschinski.

Walking into the lobby of Leschinski's practice in Meridian, the walls are a calming beige, the furniture a chocolate brown and the lights dim. The environment would be a relaxing one, except for the rock music blasting from a stereo in the corner.

The music can even be heard through the wall in Leschinski's office, where he has mounted electric guitars. He wears jeans, a neon green polo shirt and plaid sneakers—of which he owns 60 pairs. Leschinski's speaks with a thick New Jersey accent and his arms and legs are covered in tattoos.

"I have a four-hour standing appointment with my tattoo artist once a month," he said. "It's therapy for me."

Leschinski is no sit-com therapist.

"I'm nowhere near Fraser Crane," he said. "As you can tell, I'm tattooed. I wear baseball hats, I say bad words, I ride a Harley. I understand life."

Leschinski is contracted by Ada County Paramedics and Garden City Police. He also works with the Meridian and Boise police departments, as well as smoke jumpers and dispatchers. A typical day includes 13 patients who he sees from 9 a.m.-11 p.m. He'll make appointments on Sundays if someone is in crisis. He goes on ride-alongs with first responders around the valley, to "understand the rhythm of the city."