The closest many of us will ever come to facing down a life-and-death domestic situation may be through a police reality television show like COPS.

But a pair of real-life violent incidents within the last two months have claimed two brave young law enforcement officials in our region. On June 29, Berks County deputy sheriff Kyle Pagerly, 28, was shot during a gunbattle while serving an arrest warrant at a home near the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

Pagerly was used to putting his life on the line. He was an Army veterans who served in Kosovo and Iraq as a military policeman.

And last Thursday afternoon, Freemansburg police officer Robert Lasso, 31, was killed when a homeowner shot him in the head. According to court documents, George Hitcho Jr. shot Lasso after the officer pointed a stun gun at Hitcho's dogs.

Given these violent regional incidents and others we're seeing throughout the nation, last Wednesday's presentation at a Lansford Borough Council meeting on helping emergency responders deal with their emotions was vital and received rapt attention from the audience.

Jason Smith, an Emergency Management Technician, told the audience how first responders such as law enforcement officials, ambulance crews and firefighters are trained to remain calm in the face of danger. To accomplish the task at hand, they must detach themselves from emotions such as fear, anger or shock. The buried emotions lead to stress, however, and that can affect family members, friends and co-workers.

Emergency responders are not robots. Smith called these front line troops in any emergency "normal people experiencing common reactions to abnormal events."

That's what makes the EMS Council's Critical Incident Stress Management Program, which offers support and counseling, so critical. The earlier a stress-related condition is dealt with, the better for everyone. Family members can also receive support and the services are confidential and provided free of charge.

Besides the two recent shooting deaths of law enforcement officials in Berks and Northampton counties, there was another tragedy in a Pittsburgh suburb just this past weekend that left officials, co-workers and family members devastated. In this case, the death of Lawrence Carpico, an Allegheny County homicide detective, was caused by a self-inflicted gunshot.

Carpico, a 20-year veteran, died after a four-hour standoff with SWAT members at his home. Negotiators had tried to get Carpico to surrender after a family member had called them, saying the veteran detective was suicidal.

It was not revealed what kind of problems triggered Carpico's suicide but it certainly amplifies the critical need for an early detection program such as the one introduced at the Lansford council meeting last week.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com [1]