In January, after Santa Barbara County’s back-to-back disasters, I wrote a commentary for Noozhawk, “First Responders Are ‘Heroes With Broken Hearts,’” that ended with this paragraph:

“The ‘Boots’ who kept us safe and informed, with little to no regard for their own personal safety, are in fact our heroes, and in fact have broken hearts. But their broken hearts will heal, because we will be there for them, just like they were for us.”

Now I have to ask myself: “Have we been there for them, just as they were for us?”

We know they are financially compensated for what they do, and we gave them awards, parades, standing ovations, new equipment and accolades on our Facebook pages or with signs, all of which was deeply appreciated.

But I believe their injury is deeper and requires more. So my question remains, “have we been there for them, just as they were for us”?

My answer is no. As a community, we have not done enough to help them heal or prepare them for the future.*

We all watched in horror as this past week’s tragedies unfolded in communities just south of ours. But some of us didn’t just watch.

Our Santa Barbara County first responders responded. Some to the mass murder in Thousand Oaks, some to the wildfires and a few to both.

Many of them are still there, a number of whom are not yet healed from our own disasters. And if their mental health needs continue to go unmet, they will not be at their best when they respond to the next catastrophe.

I feel I owe it to our first responders as well as our communities to do more. And so my research continues.

This being Veterans Day weekend, it is timely for me to highlight the admirable work our armed forces are doing in helping to create extraordinary institutions like the Intrepid Spirit Centers.

The Intrepid Spirit Centers were built by the nonprofit Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, and then gifted to the Defense Department to assume responsibility for their operation and management.

The centers focus on diagnosing and treating psychological health conditions sustained by active-duty military personnel. (Tragically, in the Thousand Oaks massacre, it appears we may have just experienced the impact of what happens if PTSD goes untreated.)

Having supported the Intrepid Spirit Centers, our military showed it understood the mental sacrifice of those who put themselves in harm’s way. Further, the comprehensive program doesn’t just seek to restore the mental health of its first responders, it strives to return them to work with newfound strength and wisdom.

So, who are our first responders in Santa Barbara County? They are not just our law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency personnel, but also the men and woman who staff our emergency rooms — the heroes who go from one room to the next, day in and day out, at times seeing horror and frequently saving lives.

As your district attorney, I believe my job is to secure public safety. Historically, that has been by ethically prosecuting and incarcerating the guilty, which I still believe is my core function, but I also know that’s not enough.

I believe that if we do our best to keep our public safety community healthy, they can be at their best while keeping us safe. With 2019 approaching, I’m committed to helping to create a program focusing on just that.

For now, I ask that if you are a first responder, take the preventative action of talking to a mental health professional. If you are a loved one of a first responder, support their efforts to meet with a mental health professional. You can consider it to be “prehab” versus “rehab.”

And if you are a member of our community who encounters a first responder, consider compassion as your first response.

Santa Barbara County prides itself on being the best at many things. I’m hopeful that our next best thing will be becoming leaders in caring for those who seek to keep all of us healthy and safe.

* There are multiple, excellent local nonprofit organizations that do offer support services and psychological treatment to many, including first responders. Among the organizations:

» Hospice of Santa Barbara

» Santa Barbara Response Network

» Cottage Health

» “At Ease” SBPD Foundation

Joyce Dudley is Santa Barbara County’s district attorney and the mother of a first responder. The opinions expressed are her own.