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Adam Burke '19 Helping First-Responders Deal with Tragedy

Adam Burke has always wanted to help people.

It's why he decided to become a doctor. It's why he enrolled in Seton Hill's 3 + 4 cooperative degree program with the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM). It's why he volunteered and worked as an EMT during high school and his time at Seton Hill.

And it's why - when Tommy Dailey Jr., his friend and mentor at Fayette EMS in Fayette county, Pa., committed suicide in the summer of 2018 - Burke decided it was time to help those who had dedicated their lives to helping others.

"It was a shock naturally," Burke said of his friend's suicide. "He was stressed. He did have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but it was behind the scenes. He hid it. Hindsight is 20-20 and we can see now what the triggers for him were."

At Dailey's funeral, Burke and his colleagues began talking about the issues facing first-responders.

"People are leaving EMS because they can't handle it anymore because the hours are ridiculous and the calls are getting tougher and the public lacks respect," Burke said. "We talked about how we could bring this to light because it's something nobody's talking about. People are relying on us to be strong, and how can we be weak?"

"I knew first responders didn't want to only listen to doctors coming in and talking to them. They needed to hear from somebody who is in their shoes."

Burke began talking about hosting a community day in Dailey's honor and reached out to his mother, Sandy Duritsky.

"She told me he had made a video just before his suicide," Burke recalled. "He said he didn't get the help that he needed. He wished there would be something that would help the people that are in the same position that he was."

So Burke decided to do something to help the others struggling like Dailey, 31, a 15-year-veteran of the EMS service.

Though he was mere weeks from starting medical school at LECOM, Burke began organizing what would become Fayette County Unites to Help People Cope with PTSD. The event, held in November 2018 in McClellandtown, Pa., brought first responders together with medical professionals to talk about the impact responding to car accidents, fires and other medical emergencies can have.

He reached out to Dave Carpenter, a former New York firefighter who survived the collapse of the World Trade Center during 9/11.

"I knew first responders didn't want to only listen to doctors coming in and talking to them," Burke said. "They needed to hear from somebody who is in their shoes."

Carpenter, who is surviving with PTSD, spent three days at the Uniontown Fire Hall, and not only spoke at the seminar Burke organized, but spoke one-on-one with first responders who stopped by the station.

Burke said the change amongst the EMTs and paramedics has been amazing. They are reaching out to talk when issues come up. They've even set up a Facebook group with Carpenter to stay in touch.

And Fayette County Behavioral Health is working through its contracted counseling services to provide psychiatrists trained in first responder PTSD response to help.

When two children lost their lives in a fire in Fayette County, first responders reached out to Carpenter and Burke to talk.

"It made it OK for them to reach out," Burke said. "You're not a weakling because you want to talk about it. I say that's progress when I see that."

Burke was honored for his efforts by the Fayette County Commissioners.

Burke, who recently completed his first year of medical school at LECOM at Seton Hill, said he plans to return to Fayette County after graduation to work in family practice.

"The whole purpose of the LECOM-Seton Hill program is to increase the number of doctors in rural, underserved areas such as Fayette County," Burke said. "We don't need more specialists in Boston. We need more family physicians in Uniontown. And I'm looking forward to helping the community outside of being a doctor. It's about being part of the community."

This story originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 Forward Alumni Magazine.