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Tri-City team counsels N.Y.'s finest

Being a police officer or firefighter always is a stressful job, but there was something unique about being a New York cop or firefighter on Sept. 11, 2001.

"It was the complete loss and the number of people who were gone -- the magnitude," said Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb. "It was the number of firehouses left completely unstaffed, and how many children didn't have moms or dads anymore. It can really be a shock to your system."

That kind of shock takes a long-term toll, and so New York's public safety agencies brought in specialized stress management teams to help first responders cope with the enormous stress of the terrorist attacks and their aftermath.

Cobb was one of a team of four Tri-Citians who spent a week in New York in February 2002 to counsel police officers and firefighters experiencing stress and trauma in the wake of 9/11. They were one of hundreds of teams from across the country that cycled through the city during a two-year period at a rate of four or five teams every week.

Also on the team were Kennewick police Sgt. Chris Guerrero, Benton County Sheriff's Detective Mike Wilson, and Cobb's wife Therese Cobb, a psychologist who specializes in trauma.

Guerrero, Wilson and Mike Cobb have specialized training in peer counseling, which was critical for helping the police officers and firefighters involved in responding to the World Trade Center that day, and searching for survivors and victims' remains afterward.

Mike Cobb said cops and firefighters often respond best to other people who do the job.

"They don't have to explain what it is we do," he said. "The other officer or firefighter knows. We know what it is to live that life. For lack of a better phrase, we get it."

When the Tri-City Critical Incident Stress Management Team arrived in New York in February 2002, the city's first responders were past the initial shock and moving into more complex trauma.

"By this point, the meaning of it was sinking in," Cobb said. "The numbness was leaving them. The fact that this is going to impact us for the rest of our lives. 'How do I incorporate this into my experience? How do I try to make some type of sense of it?' "

Therese Cobb said that for New York police and firefighters, there was no return to normal after 9/11. There was only a "new normal" that those officers still are processing a decade later.

"I don't think the process ever stops," Mike Cobb said. "For many of them, it is a significant part of them. We as a nation are still dealing with it."