I sat down with Mick Yinger in an interview asking him poignant questions about his life and the non-profit organization, First Responders Bridge, that he formed a couple of years ago with his best friend, Mike. Almost immediately he started sharing the story about the day he heard the sad news involving two officers from Westerville, Ohio who were shot and killed after responding to a 911 hang-up call and how it changed his life. The date was February 10, 2018, when he found himself grief-stricken over the loss of Police Officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering. Mick was originally from Ohio and at the time was living in Virginia. He decided to drive back to Ohio to attend the funeral. During the funeral, a flood of emotions poured over him that he could not shake off. Eric Joering was a friend and someone he worked closely with on several different cases. Feeling empty inside, he started to recall painful memories from his past. He had lost two friends to suicide. One was from the police academy and the other friend was his partner from the police department. In response to his emotions, he decided to take action and do something positive to help first responders. He felt that doing nothing was not an option but doing something meant deciding a plan of action and asking for help.
Mick called on his best friend since the 7th grade, Mike Pavolino. He knew Mike would support his ideas about starting a non-profit. He described Mike as one of the smartest, most dedicated and caring people he knows. He went on to say that Mike offers a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His experiences come from over 26 years of serving in the military, including multiple years of working as a police officer. During Mike’s military career he was taught how to handle mood disorders, including depression, stress, PTSD and anxiety for the military troops. Mick explained he could not imagine walking through this journey with anyone else other than Mike. Joining forces, Mick and Mike formed the organization called First Responders Bridge.
During the developmental stages, their goals remained constant. They were going to promote personal growth and healthy relationships in a safe and confidential environment. They were going to focus on helping all first responders and their significant others cope with loss and tragedy. More importantly, they knew they needed to put together a great board made up of clinicians, first responders, and business leaders in order for it to be successful. The First Responders Bridge put together a great team of board members who are smart business people and leaders in the community. Mick and Mike brought in JR McCullough, a longtime businessman in Columbus, as a Partner for the non-profit, and Hugh Cathey, a very successful businessman and the Board Chair, who has served on the board of numerous nonprofits across the State of Ohio. The board members along with the incredible board of trustees, serve as leaders in the community and have worked hard at advancing the mission of the organization by providing dedication and support.
Trusted friends are also important in advancing an organization. You can say that about Pete Miller who has played an important role in helping introduce me to Mick. The first time I heard about Mick and the First Responders Bridge retreats was during a conversation I had with Pete, who started out as a contact on LinkedIn and is now considered my friend as well. Pete posted articles addressing PTSD and information about the First Responders Bridge upcoming retreat. PTSD was something I was already researching and writing about in my blog articles and addressing during my Police Wives interviews. However, Pete’s messages on LinkedIn piqued my interest and I wanted to learn more about the disorder. After reaching out to him he talked about the retreats and suggested I contact Mick to help me learn more.
When I contacted Mick I found him easy to talk to and during our conversation, he surprised me with an invitation to come to the retreat that was held in February of this year. I kindly accepted his offer. It was a dynamic 3-day retreat held at the Marriott Hotel in Dublin Ohio. All expenses were paid for active and retired first responders and their families, loved ones, or caregivers who were experiencing, or have experienced, any traumatic or life-altering event. During The Bridge retreats, attendees received information concerning their health and wellbeing as it relates to trauma or traumatic events. There were keynote speakers and peer speakers who shared their knowledge and experiences. There were breakout sessions where you met in small groups and there were opportunities for fellowship during mealtime. On Saturday night we were entertained by Commander Vinnie Montez from the Boulder County Sheriff's Office, who is also a stand-up comedian. Sunday was the last day of the retreat and was an emotional day for all of us. We listened to keynote speaker Michael McSellers, who led us into song and prayer. The music selection was moving as we were listening to Robyn Slade songs, Hero’s Heart and Hurt Locker. As Michael played the song, Waymaker, sung by Melody Joy Cloud, he invited us up to the stage to pray with him. His words were encouraging but emotional as we all gathered around him. It was a great ending to one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
We must never forget that so many officers are struggling with PTSD and deal with negative coping strategies that seem helpful on the spur of the moment, but soon turn self-destructive in the long-term. Many resort to alcohol or recreational drugs to numb their feelings, decrease stress, or even to quiet their thoughts if the proper help is not offered to them. As I learn more about PTSD through my research, statistics remind me that more than 50% of law enforcement officers regularly experience psychological trauma due to highly stressful events. Exposure to traumatic events puts them at risk of developing symptoms leading to PTSD. Some studies even suggest that 19% to 34% of sworn officers currently struggle with PTSD. This would include first responders, Firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), paramedics, and dispatch workers. All of which are at a higher risk of developing PTSD.
For Mick, he understood the stress and trauma that comes with police work. He grew up in a law enforcement family and when he was old enough, he started his police career in 1990 in Clinton Township, a suburb of Columbus, and then in 1991 started working with the Columbus Police Department until medically retiring in 2012. Retirement was not easy for him, as it meant a loss of identity. He spent years of working patrol and working covert assignments, as well as a boxing instructor for cadets who came through the police academy. Mick felt disconnected, as being a police officer was how he defined himself and retirement caused him to question who he was. He said it took him about a year to get over the loss of being away from the work he grew to love. Today he will tell you he has found his purpose again after starting the First Responders Bridge organization. The retreats are a reminder that he is helping hurting people and rebuilding stronger communities.
To learn more about First Responders’ Bridge, or to make a donation, please visit here:
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