Adrenaline and risk. These are the two ingredients that have driven Brandy Tarala’s life decisions, culminating in the founding of United We Rescue (UWR). United We Rescue is a non-profit organization committed to helping meet the mental health needs of first responders. While this venture was yet another one of Brandy’s risks, it’s a risk that matters, with the potential of helping countless helpers.
Brandy Tarala grew up with an all-consuming passion that drove her early life decisions. That passion? Skiing. Growing up in Spokane, Brandy had easy access to pursue that passion and her goal of becoming a professional ski racer. She was so dedicated to this goal that she skied every day during winter quarter of community college studies (instead of attending class) and “zeroed out.”
Clearly, adrenaline and risk were driving factors in Brandy’s life decisions. So it’s really no surprise that it was literally a dare that led her to a job at Yellowstone Park and then a period of “resort hopping.” All the while Brandy continued to feed that adrenaline rush with skiing. Until tragedy struck, thwarting Brandy’s dreams.
While living on Cape Cod, Brandy was hit by a drunk driver, breaking both of her legs. Her life trajectory took a turn, and Brandy decided to pursue a career in physical therapy. While helping others was satisfying, this self-described adrenaline junkie found this new pace too slow for her liking. She missed the rush. How to get that back? The work of an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) would prove to be the answer.
Still living on Cape Cod, Brandy became an EMT, and then a paramedic. Brandy fell head-over-heels in love with being a first responder. Never mind the excitement of the fast pace, it’s helping people that is so gratifying to Brandy.
At the age of 40, she even went through the Fire Training Academy. If saving lives wasn’t satisfying enough, Brandy became involved in a Fire Fighter Stair Climb, helping raise money for the Cape Cod Cancer Relief Fund. In this way, Brandy could combine two of her favorite themes: helping others and building community.
Seven years ago, Brandy brought her skills back to her hometown of Spokane. One thing she noticed was that Spokane lacked first responder community events like the Firefighter Stair Climb. To participate in something like this, Brandy would have to travel to Seattle or Portland. Another, more tragic point she witnessed, was an epidemic of mental health issues for first responders.
First responders can experience trauma on a daily basis, which can take a huge mental health toll. “It’s a toll that can lead to PTSD, depression, mental health problems and too often suicide.” This isn’t merely anecdotal. National statistics confirm that first responders have higher suicide rates than the general population.
Where was the help for our helpers? Who would respond to the needs of our responders?
Brandy Tarala would. And did. While most agencies have EAP’s (employee assistant plan), those alone are not always enough, can only take you so far, and can be hard to navigate. She wanted to make sure there were additional resources and help those in crisis navigate the system.
It all started with an idea for an event to raise money to address the mental health needs of first responders. An obstacle course. A big one. On a baseball field.
Unlike other fundraising events, Brandy’s obstacle course would include more than just the firefighters or EMTs. Brandy would bring everyone together, from nurses, to police, to military servicemen and women. “We’re better together,” says Brandy. In addition to raising money for mental health, the event’s goal is to have fun. If fire poles for sliding down, adult Hippity Hops, and a stuffed-cat-mock-tree-rescue aren’t fun, I don’t know what it is. And that’s just the start of the projected 14 obstacles in total. Let’s hope a baseball field will be big enough!
As word of this idea spread, people started coming to Brandy for peer support. Clearly, there was a need for helping beyond fundraising. With more and more people seeking support, Brandy’s idea “became a beast of its own,” developing into the non-profit organization she named United We Rescue launched in March of 2021. Its mission: “To connect all First Responders including Military and Medical Professionals to vital resources for those impacted by traumatic experiences while serving our communities and nation. We want to ensure that NO ONE fights alone!”
United We Rescue serves as “Resource for the First Responder community to find resources, support, and services easily and in a timely manner.”
Brandy specifically is striving “to help those in crisis navigate the process of finding help” as well as “spread awareness that those who take care of us need help, too.” And of course, creating events, which is how it all started. The “United” in the nonprofit’s name is especially significant for Brandy because she sees all kinds of first responders as a united, and unified front.
United We Rescue is there to support everyone in the field.
While Brandy is the current Business Development Manager of the organization, she relies on a team of others who contribute to UWR’s mission. Tyler Pfeffer, along with Brandy, is an EMT with American Medical Response. The Community Liaison is Sean Coen with Inland Northwest Behavioral Health and Leslie Luedke is the Vice President and also does her marketing and communications. Although no longer involved with the organization, Deborah Traxel, who is married to a paramedic, was “huge in getting it started.”
This is only the beginning for Brandy and United We Rescue. Brandy’s 10-year goals include “taking it nationwide.” First responders everywhere should have a local United We Rescue branch. “I wanna see the obstacle course happen in the Red Sox, Fenway stadium!” says Brandy with a laugh.
I have no doubt this event will be played out all across the nation way before 10 years is up. But first, mark your calendars for the Spokane fundraising event. It’s slated to occur in fall of 2023.
Other upcoming local events include a Golf Scramble on May 19, 2023 on the Wandermere Golf Course. To learn about sponsorship opportunities, how you can donate, or how to volunteer with United We Rescue, visit the website at www.unitedwerescue.org.
If you are a first responder or know a first responder who needs peer support or help finding mental health resources, reach out to UWR through the website at www.unitedwerescue.org.