099 First Responder Trauma Reality & Return – Mathias

first responder, trauma, ptsd

First Responder Trauma Is Real – Preparation Makes A Difference

Melven Mathias First Responder Pentagon 9-11

Melven Mathias 9-11

Melven Mathias, Virginia Beach, Va., First Responder: Melven is a buddy of mine with whom I’ve worked out for years at Wareing’s Gym in Va. Beach. I invited him here on CBJ as a guest because we’ve discussed some of his remarkable, heartfelt stories about his personal experience with First Responder Trauma.

He’s a retired Deputy Fire Chief, retired Va. Task Force II, Urban Search & Rescue Team Leader, Retired FEMA Disaster Safety Officer and Vietnam Vet. Melven responded to and assisted with the Oklahoma City Bombing, Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, Haiti Earthquake, Hurricane Katrina and the 07 and 09 California wildfires – and these are just a few of his many disaster moments. Listen up to his straight talk from the reality he experienced as a First Responder to understand more about what they go through, both before and after those tragic realities.

Details on Melven’s Experience

Although disasters are often a collective event (meaning experienced my many) they are in reality, a singularity experience resulting in an array of emotions, feelings, and consequences.  As a team leader, one must recognize this fact, as the post-traumatic symptoms will manifest differently in each of the members. Team members may seem alike; however, I have come to realize they often have slight differences requiring individual management.

Melven’s Reports His Experiences at CBJ/098

  • The first thing most first responders do – they think they’re tough [4:34]
  • We start each mission by sorting out who will go [8:50]
  • Our 9-11 mission at the Pentagon in DC [11:42]
  • As a team leader, your #1 priority is your team members [21:09]
  • Your team may not be up to that capability [23:39]
  • On the bus going home [31:14]
  • The emotional burden for first responders [36:22]
  • You’re in no mood to be special or thanked [40:09]
  • What we learned from Oklahoma [42:35]
  • You may need professional help [44:10]
  • The difference between ‘debrief’ and ‘decompress’ [45:04]
  • Differences in the stages: Pre, During & Aftermath [46:59]


Melven’s Experiences Documented In This ‘Transcript’ Document

On The Line: Melven Mathias

In 1974, I joined the Virginia Beach Fire Department and retired in 2005 as the Deputy Fire Chief.

After Hurricane Hugo devastated Charleston South Carolina, I lead a team of City employees to help Charleston dig out and recover from the devastating aftermath.

As a member of the department, I also served as a Team Leader for Virginia Task Force II, Urban Search and Rescue Team a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sponsored asset. As a team leader, I helped to develop the National urban and search and rescue potential as a member of a committee responsible for developing the national urban and search capability.

I likewise served as a member of the national committee that developed the national urban Search and Overhead Criteria. As a founding member, I served on one of the first Overhead teams.

As a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Team leader, I responded to:

  • Petersburg, Virginia Walmart tornado incident – Virginia Task Force II, team leader
  • Hurricane Marilyn that devastated St. Thomas – FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Overhead team
  • Oklahoma City Bombing, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building – Virginia Task Force II, team leader
  • Hurricane Opal, panhandle of Florida – FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Overhead team
  • Hurricane Fran, North Carolina – FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Overhead team
  • Sept 11, 2001, Attack of the Pentagon, Arlington, VA., – Virginia Task Force II, team leader
  • Hurricane Ivan, Gulf Coast of Alabama, FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Overhead team
  • Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Louisiana, FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Overhead team
  • Hurricane Rita, served in the National Command Center, Washington DC as the National coordinator for all the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams.


I served as a City of Virginia Beach ambassador to North County Down and the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade during the time of the IRA bombings, spending a month with the brigade assisting, learning and observing their strategic operations.


After retiring from the Virginia Beach Fire Department, I joined FEMA as a member of FEMA’s Occupational Health, Safety and Environmental Agency and a Disaster Safety Officer.

I also became a member of FEMA’s Emergency Response Team and later became one of FEMA’s National Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) members serving as a Safety Officer on the IMAT West team. As a Disaster Safety Officer, I became one of the first Type I Safety Officers for FEMA. I likewise, assisted in developing the Disaster Safety Officer criteria and served as a training facilitator.

As a FEMA Safety Officer, I responded to:

  • 2005, Hurricane Katrina – Biloxi, Mississippi as the lead Safety Officer in the Advance Forward Office (AFO);
  • 2006, Dallas Texas as the lead Safety Officer assisting with the repatriation of the Hurricane Katrina victims;
  • 2006, Cleveland Ohio, flooding – lead Safety Officer
  • 2007, Albany, New York – flooding and snow emergency – lead Safety Officer
  • 2007, Road Island – National emergency exercise as a member of the Emergency Response Team
  • 2007, Portland Organ – Nation emergency exercise as a member of the Incident Management Assistant Team
  • 2007, California Wild Fires – Lead Safety Officer for FEMA and California
  • 2008, Des Moines IA. – Great Mid-West Floods, Lead FEMA Safety Officer
  • 2008, Hurricane Gustav, Baton Rouge as lead FEMA Safety Officer
  • 2009, California Wild Fires – Lead Safety Officer
  • 2009, Bismarck, ND, flooding – Lead Safety Officer
  • 2009, Buffalo, NY, flooding – Lead Safety Officer
  • 2010, Lexington, KY, Flooding – Lead Safety Officer
  • 2011, Haiti Earthquake – Member of the FEMA’s Incident Management Assistant Team, lead Safety Officer overseeing the USA Urban Search and Rescue response
  • 2012, Baton Rouge, LA., Hurricane Isaac – member of FEMA’s Incident Management Assistant Team, Lead Safety Officer
  • 2012, Burlington Vt., flooding – lead Safety Officer

FEMA Award

While with FEMA I was awarded the FEMA’s OSHE Directors award for my response to the Haiti earthquake and am a recipient of the Virginia Beach Fire Department Group Medal of Honor for my response to the Oklahoma City Bombing.

This is but a sampling of the disasters I responded to and been a part of. I’ve assisted States and counties with tornado damage, flooding, snow emergencies, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricane damage, terrorist bombing/attacks and been part of the national security for the winter and summer Olympics. I also was part of the 2000 National Democratic and Republican Conventions Security/emergency response teams.


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First Responder References



Until next time, thanks so much for joining us here at CBJ again. Have some feedback you’d like to share? Leave a note in the comment section below. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it using the social media buttons you see at the bottom of the post.

Also, please leave an honest review for the CoreBrain Journal Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and greatly appreciated. Reviews do matter in the rankings of the show, and I read every one of them. If this post is helpful, please pass it on.


In closing, if you have any questions, drop a comment on any posting here at CBJ, and I’ll get back to you. This discerning show of world-class experts is here for you, your families, and your clients – to tighten the dialogue for more precise answers.

And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the show on iTunes to get automatic updates, or if you’re on an Android Device subscribe for timely updates at Google Play. Yes, these extraordinary experts with years of experience are free.

Special thanks to Melven for joining me this week. I look forward seeing you in the AM down at Wareing’s!


Next CoreBrain Journal Guest

100 Susanne S. Drury, Ph.D., is a consulting psychologist for Sovereign Health of Arizona at the Chandler women’s facility.  Susanne received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Chicago. She has over 35 years of clinical experience, including EMDR, traumatic incident reduction and other specialized trauma treatment techniques.  She is a certified trauma specialist with the Association of Traumatic Stress Studies and a certified clinical trauma professional with the International Association of Trauma Professionals. Susanne is the professor in charge of the specialty program at Ottawa University in treating trauma, abuse, and deprivation. Listen up as she talks about comprehensive treatment strategies specifically for women’s trauma.


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