Witnessing death is traumatic no matter what the circumstances. Trauma Intervention Program of Southern Nevada volunteers are called to provide emotional support and offer resources to family members, friends, neighbors, or witnesses during the investigative process.
The TIP offices moved Downtown to the Las Vegas Fire and Rescue building seven years ago. Staff and volunteers work closely with various emergency response agencies in Southern Nevada. Jill Roberts is the full-time TIP CEO as well as a part-time investigator for the Clark County Coroner’s office. Roberts started as a volunteer and knew from her first day of training it was her calling.
But many of the volunteers come to TIP after being helped by the organization during their own time of need. Almost two years ago, Rochelle Collins was driving when she witnessed a fatal one-person car accident. “It happened so fast. The driver was speeding and then slammed into a center divider and pole.”
Collins can still visualize the moment. She says it seemed to happen in slow motion as people ran to assist the driver and when rescue arrived. Collins never saw the body but the crash shook her. And as a single mother of an 11-year-old at the time, she became more distraught when she found out the driver was a teenager.
“It broke my heart that a mother was going to be receiving the worst news possible,” she explains. “It was a crisis for me. I was crying and hyperventilating. It was a police officer that asked if I wanted someone to come help me. I told him ‘yes,’ and a TIP volunteer arrived and sat with me before I was questioned about the accident.”
Adding to her trauma, Collins was involved in an almost-fatal car accident in 2012. She was hospitalized for a month and endured major surgery that took three months to recuperate from. These two life-altering events made Collins realize “what a fine line we walk every day between life and death. It made me have a great reverence and appreciation for both.” Despite a busy career and motherhood, Collins decided to become a TIP volunteer.
“You will never forget what you saw but we help to remove the emotional attachment.”–Angela Leath, crisis intervention admin Las Vegas Fire and Rescue
There are similar services available for professionals who are exposed to trauma as well. While not a part of TIP, Las Vegas Fire and Rescue employs crisis intervention administrator Angela Leath and other peer support team members. She works with the firefighters, paramedics and dispatchers who handle the medical side of the tragedy. The program began two years ago to help maintain the mental fitness of the crew members Downtown and now supports the entire department of almost 800 people including dispatch and administrative staff.
“You will never forget what you saw but we help to remove the emotional attachment,” Leath says.
There are various ways professionals and trauma support volunteers can offer their help. “We let people know we are going to be there for them, whether sitting in silence, giving a gentle touch, going over the resource guide or allowing them to express themselves,” says TIP volunteer Erika Troutman. “I am honored to be able to provide this support.”
For more information on the Trauma Intervention Program of Southern Nevada visit tipoflasvegas.org.