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Social worker Sue Johnston, and Mike Passig, Plymouth police officer, work together to help first-responders traumatized by deaths, crashes fires and other things they encounter on the job.

Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Mike & Sue: Responding to responders

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM
  • January 31, 2012 - 12:56 PM

Five years ago, Mike Passig grew weary of telling his peers, "I'm sorry," as they reeled from line-of-duty deaths, crashes and fires. So the 34-year-old Plymouth police officer and father of two young children joined a front line of a different sort.

Passig is one of 60 trained volunteer first-responders reaching out to peers traumatized by what they see.

Cops, firefighters, paramedics and emergency dispatchers collaborate with mental health professionals and chaplains to offer support and coping strategies.

Partnering with Sue Johnston, 53, a Minneapolis social worker, didn't start out effortlessly. "There's a natural distrust between cops and shrinks," Mike said. "Two-way street, buddy," Sue said with a laugh. They work together so well now that Mike's spouse calls Sue "his other wife." Mike, still a full-time police officer, created a computerized call-out system that allows the Critical Incident Stress Management Team (www.metrocism.org) to dispatch members across the metro area within hours. He and Sue meet regularly to fine-tune their strategy.

"Responders are really resilient people," Sue said, "but once in a while, a call gets underneath their armor. The worst is when a child dies. Some say, 'I just don't want to do this anymore,' That's a normal reaction."

Sue, the mother of two grown children, is a veteran of crisis work, but she said Mike "is a cop's cop who knows how to talk the language." Mike appreciates Sue's genuine concern. "It's nice to see this common goal of helping people get through this," Mike said. "We save careers."

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