North Texas firefighters offer support, counseling to those who responded to Odessa mass shooting

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North Texas firefighters are headed to Odessa as part of a program to offer support and counseling for fellow first responders dealing with tragedy.

Two of the men who traveled to Odessa on Wednesday were also in El Paso last month.

They said that many firefighters who responded to that shooting struggled with the feeling that they should've been able to save more lives.

That's the kind of emotional weight they're carrying.

The four firefighters in DFW got on a plane Wednesday to go help their fellow brethren, except they're not assisting in putting out flames.

“You know, the catch phrase is, 'My mind can't forget what my eyes have seen,' and that's a problem,” Garland Fire Captain J.D. Schulgen said.

Schulgen is one of the hundreds of firefighters vetted and trained by the International Association of Firefighters in recent years to counsel his colleagues.

He's taught to talk to them after they've seen violence firsthand as a first responder, and serve as a bridge to mental health help.

“We just make ourselves available and they'll walk up and say, 'Hey you got a minute?' 'Sure what's going on?' 'Here's what's happening. Here's what I did.' And then that dialogue begins,” Schulgen added.

He had that dialogue over and over most recently in El Paso, after a gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 more.

Schulgen, along with 40 others with his same training, counseled each and every El Paso firefighter.

“In El Paso, we saw a lot of guys that made the runs on the victims,” Schulgen said. “They were anxious, upset, worried. Life has changed for them a bit. They're not sleeping good. They're not getting back to normal as fast as they want to and as fast as we need them to for firefighters.”

Now, they're heading to Odessa, under tragically similar circumstances.

It's Plano Fire Captain Todd Schooling's first time to travel to do this.

“It's hard to anticipate because I've never even dealt with what these guys have dealt with. This is a once in a career occurrence for more people,” Schooling said.

But it's becoming more and more common.

Mass shootings are now happening, on average, once every two and a half weeks in the U.S., according to the FBI.

And the International Association of Firefighters says more firefighters take their own lives nationwide each year than are killed in the line of duty.

“I've been in the fire service 34 years, and we just now are figuring out kind of what works,” Schulgen said.

They travel with professional behavioral health specialists and mental health professionals to help in what they're doing.

In El Paso, they even worked with dispatchers and the medical examiner's office.