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Volunteers lend emotional support during times of trauma

If you ever find yourself in need of the staff and volunteers of Trauma Intervention Program of Southern Nevada, chances are it will be at a bad time in your life. When it's all over, you'll know you were lucky to have them there.

"We're there for not just the homicides and the suicides, the big things you see on the news," said Jill Bernacki, chief executive officer of Trauma Intervention Program of Southern Nevada. "We're there for the silent, everyday tragedies, like the elderly woman who has woken up every morning 50 years and one morning she wakes up and he doesn't."

The group, part of a national organization, more commonly goes by the acronym TIP or TIPs and was founded in San Diego in 1985. There are 14 affiliates. The local branch started in 1994.

The Southern Nevada group's website proclaims that TIP is a volunteer-based non profit organization dedicated to ensuring that those who are emotionally traumatized in emergency situations receive the assistance they need.

The organization works closely with emergency responders and provides assistance for public safety agencies that are unable to offer trauma intervention services. Bernacki said many of the affiliates were formed when a fire chief or police chief who had worked with TIP moved to another municipality.

"They ask for TIP to set up at their new location, because they like having us as a resource," she said.

Bernacki said a typical call to TIP begins soon after a first responder arrives on the scene of a tragedy. The police and fire departments and sometimes even hospital officials request a TIP representative through their dispatchers, who in turn call TIP's dispatcher, who decides which volunteer to send .

"We respond to any emergency where the responder feels people need practical or emotional support," Bernacki said. "I would say that about 95 percent of our calls are death-related."

Like nearly all of the TIP personnel, dispatcher Carol, who asked that her last name be withheld, is a volunteer.

Deciding which of the three on-call volunteers to dispatch is based in part on geography. The organization helps out all over the valley, and if one volunteer is closer to the scene, he gets the call. Otherwise, it's a matter of rotating through the list of volunteers. A volunteer may be called out three times or not at all during a shift, but Bernacki said volunteers have dealt with as many as five calls.

"We're usually there within a half-hour ," Carol said. "We apply the five emotional first aid skills we learn in training."

The skills are reaching out, protecting, reassuring, organizing and reinforcing.

TIP offers training sessions two or three times a year. One recently wrapped up, and Bernacki said the next one would probably take place in July. The session covered such topics as how long to stay at a scene, appropriate attire and how to tell who's in charge at a fire by the color of the helmets.

"There are intense 55-hour training sessions that are stretched out over a two-week period," Bernacki said. "After that, there's a three-month field-training program where they're paired up with another volunteer. After that, they graduate and they're able to go out on a scene on their own."

Bernacki said the group has about 70 volunteers and is always looking for more.

"It's a great organization . I'm very passionate about it," Carol said. "I like to know I'm helping people. It also gives me a great appreciation of my family, my kids and my grandkids."

The group hosts an annual fundraiser called Heroes with a Heart where members recognize the emergency responders they work with and raise funds with activities such as silent auctions.

The next event is planned for May 30 at The Orleans. Details are still being worked out .

"We're there for people in their darkest hours," Bernacki said. "It's rewarding to know that we're making a difference for people at their worst moments."

For more information, visit tipoflasvegas .org or call 702-229-0426 .

Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at or 702-380-4532.