CAMDEN — The words of Knox County Chief Deputy Tim Carroll in the July 15 article “Union crash victim had launched second career” have stuck with me this past week and will not let go.

Deputy Carroll spoke about having to notify families when their loved ones have died tragically: “I don’t know if I ever do it right. I ask myself after each one if I could have done it differently.”

Over the past 12 weeks, our Knox County first responders have answered calls involving the deaths of six people on our roads, in addition to the non-fatal accidents and countless incidents and deaths involving house fires, drug overdoses and domestic abuse that we don’t hear about in the news.

Our sheriff’s deputies, local police officers, firefighters and ambulance crews work hard to prevent tragedies, and when there is one, they’re the first people there and the last to leave. And the work doesn’t end at the scene.

First responders, as front-line caregivers, put themselves in danger every day not just physically, but emotionally as well. They’ve chosen to accept the burden of the stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger and self-doubt that go hand in hand with the already-demanding physical tasks of their jobs.

Many will suffer from compassion fatigue – secondary post-traumatic stress disorder that affects caregivers who regularly interact with other people’s trauma. It takes time, hard work and a lot of self-care just to deal with one traumatic experience. And these courageous women and men get up every single day, go to work and pile more on top.

Experiencing trauma vicariously every day can result in a broad range of health consequences – everything from headaches and back pain to loss of sleep, depression and despair. Exposure to critical events like fires, murders and car accidents can overwhelm any individual, even the strongest among us. And it can often be difficult to ask for help.

Imagine looking our statewide opioid addiction epidemic in the face every day as you literally work to save the lives of men, women and children who have overdosed – and feeling you have no way to personally stop these incidents from happening. Imagine working to save a life in a head-on collision, knowing that a slower speed, a seatbelt or less distraction could have avoided the incident altogether – but having no control over what drivers do when they get behind the wheel.

Fortunately, first responders, while considered at high risk for compassion fatigue and burnout, have also been identified as a group that shows incredible resiliency despite a constant barrage of traumatic incidents. One element of this resiliency has been identified as a sense of community, not just within their professional ranks, but also within the neighborhood, city or county where they do their work.

This means that we – every single one of us – play a real role in the physical and mental health of our first responders, not only in their ability to do their jobs successfully, but also in making sure they don’t suffer for the incredible work they do for us.

It’s not enough to just say thank you. Our first responders need to know that we, as a community, will share the burden they take on every day. They need to know that we are here for them. First responders like Deputy Carroll need to know that when he has to make a long walk up to a family member’s front door, we’re all standing there behind him.

That’s why I’d like to ask you to contact your local first responders and tell them you support them and that you’re here for them. Give them a call, write an email or bring some cookies on a busy weekend. It means more than you know.

And for goodness’ sake, please slow down on the roads and get off your cellphone. We have to do our part, too. Every time each of us chooses to take more care on the road, it’s one less potential walk a first responder will have to make to deliver unthinkable news.