BOISE, Idaho — In the case of a suicide, overdose, or any kind of unexpected death, family members are often incredibly distraught in the immediate hours after making the discovery.
In the Treasure Valley, there's a unique group of well-trained citizens who show up on scene to give help wherever they're needed. It's called the Trauma Intervention Program - or TIP - and it's made entirely of volunteers.
"We respond to a lot of suicides, unfortunately," TIP volunteer Doris Williston said. "It is indeed a major portion of what we do."
Doris Williston has been with the Treasure Valley TIP program since its inception four and a half years ago. She and other volunteers respond to traumatic situations in which a friend, child, or family member is on scene and in need of emotional support. In most cases, they respond to death-related calls, like a fatal house fire, suicide, deadly crash or drug overdose.
Right now, the program is running in Ada County and the city of Nampa. Police dispatch will call TIP and tell them exactly where they're needed.
Volunteers are on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Each volunteer dedicates three 12-hour on-call shifts per month, during which they can be dispatched at a moment's notice with the goal of arriving on scene in 20 minutes.
"We can't wait to go, we're dressed all the time," Williston said. "We want to be there for anyone's needs."
Program manager Kymber Neal-Jenkins says they've seen success so far in meeting their 20 minute goal. "Our volunteers are coming without lights or sirens and just responding anywhere inside the county," Neal-Jenkins said. "Last year we responded within 19 minutes for those requests so we're doing a great job meeting that goal."
Once a volunteer arrives on scene, first responders introduce the TIP volunteers to family on site, allowing them to take over emotional needs so police and paramedics can focus on their duties. The volunteers' top priority is helping without hindering those on scene, by focusing on the needs of the civilian survivors.
"You organize for them, and you say, 'Ok, let's get a plan here,'" Williston explained. "We help assist getting things for the Coroner as well, so 'Where is that document found?' and 'Was there a cell phone?' and different things that are very natural things to help but they're not thinking that way usually."
Right now the program is comprised of 26 volunteers but they plan to expand their operations with new recruits at the end of August.
They also have a teen program, permitting Treasure Valley residents 14 to 21-years-old to respond to scenes with an adult TIP volunteer, typically in scenarios where children are involved.
"And the teens go through the exact same training as the rest of our volunteers, and they respond to calls with an adult volunteer to provide peer-to-peer support to teens or children on scene," Neal-Jenkins said. "Often times there are kids involved as well."
To learn more about upcoming training schedules, click here.