By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, MN When someone is in dire need of assistance, often the first step to take is dialing 911. What many don’t think about, however, is that sometimes those first responders need help, too.
One group out of Dassel is aiming to do something about it.
Firefighters With PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), is a local, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was started two years ago by Dassel resident and firefighter Matthew Doughty, who personally knows what life can be like with PTSD. He was diagnosed with it at an early age due to a difficult upbringing.
Doughty recently described his PTSD journey in his book, “A Revelation: Moving Beyond PTSD & Foster Care,” which can be read about through the featured link at dasselcokato.com.
One aspect of PTSD that many not be well-known is that “a clear link [has been identified] between traumatic situations experienced by firefighters and paramedics and PTSD [that is] similar to the chronic disorder experienced by veterans,” according to the International Association of Firefighters’ 2016 report.
“Of the 788,250 volunteer first responders in the US, as [many] as 37 percent are diagnosed with PTSD,” Doughty shared. “That amounts to slightly more than 290,000 firefighters. Minnesota boasts 90 percent of its firefighters are volunteers, and those 18,000 volunteers save the state $742 million a year, [according to a 2014 University of Minnesota study].”
Following his book’s publication, Doughty said he had the option of pursuing a business path, but instead chose to answer “a bigger calling:” providing aid to first responders and veterans suffering from depression and PTSD.
“Volunteer first responders have few resources to rely on to take care of themselves, and continuously giving 110 percent effort to help others takes a lot of work,” Doughty stated. “Shouldn’t we start saving them?”
After completing an extensive amount of research, Doughty determined the greatest need Firefighters With PTSD could help meet was getting service dogs to these servicemen and women.
“Our main goal is to help first responders [and veterans] find a better quality of life after their lives of service, [and] we have found that service dogs bring great comfort to those hurting, and [also] help with mental health,” Doughty commented.
As stated on Rover.com, service dogs with PTSD training can significantly improve their handlers’ lives by reducing anxiety and stress, improving self-sufficiency, assisting with coping skills, and other means of daily living.
Doughty added that the dogs can also help their handlers feel more secure, which is exactly what Firefighters With PTSD’s first service dog recipient experienced.
Placing the first service dog
John Bennett of Alma, GA, is a retired police chief with 20 years of service. He met his service dog, Ziva, through Firefighters With PTSD Oct. 10, and has found his life changed for the better.
“Ziva has helped me so much since she has gotten here,” Bennett commented on the nonprofit’s website. “I feel a lot more comfortable staying home by myself now. She is with me all the time, wherever I go.”
Getting Ziva ready for Bennett wasn’t a “walk in the park,” however.
Firefighters With PTSD learned about Ziva, whose handler had recently passed away, through a separate organization that was willing to donate her to Doughty’s team.
“This was exciting. Most times, a service dog takes months to train, and by the time of placement [can] cost between $7,000 and $12,000,” said Doughty.
Although a significant amount of money would be saved, there were still expenses for picking up Ziva, having her checked by a veterinarian, and getting her down to Georgia and it was money Firefighters With PTSD didn’t have at the time.
It took donations from several fire departments, police departments, and many corporations to provide enough funds to make the placement happen.
Doughty and his team also organized motorcycle runs to help raise the funds, including two that went from Minnesota to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and another that went down to Texas.
The latter was an attempt to break the world record for a parade of Harley Davidsons. They received some news coverage and picked up a few riders along the journey, but they did run into a few hiccups.
“The weather was hot that day, and bikes were breaking down in line and could not finish,” described Doughty on the organization’s website. “[Also] some who registered bikes and said they were [Harley Davidson] were not. But, all in all, we raised $2k toward our goal in placing our first dog.”
In addition to the funds raised, one of Doughty’s highlights from the trip was getting to meet world record-breaking motorcyclist Adam Sandoval and his dog, Scooter.
“Adam does many rides and events helping veterans. We talked about big plans to work on an event together in the near future” Doughty shared.
While raising the funds required a lot of work, Doughty said it was well worth the effort.
“The fact that we are able to do this kind of work with such a dedicated team is humbling,” he commented. “Watching this 20-year police chief regain control of his life and independence is truly something special to be a part of. When they sign up to give [their] lifetime to serving others, who will be there for them when they need it? It is truly a pleasure of mine to serve others in need.”
Firefighters With PTSD is preparing to place its second service dog Saturday, July 27, 2019, following a bike and car run from Delano to Dassel. The dog will assist Troy Teff of the Twin Cities, who served 20 years as a Minnesota fireman, 10 years as the Saint Paul Fire Department’s captain, as well as 10 years in the United States Air Force.
Firefighters With PTSD accepts donations year-round through its website, which can be found through the featured links at dasselcokato.com.
Apply for a service dog
Firefighters With PTSD will be accepting applications to receive a service dog Tuesday, Jan. 1 through Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019.
Applications can be found using the featured link at dasselcokato.com.