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Paramedic’s stress disorder costs him his career

January 20, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Lincoln paramedic went on hundreds of emergency calls before the one that took he says took his soul.

Rob Ravndal said a service dog he acquired, Pride, has helped calm his anxieties but Pride couldn’t save his job.

The drowning of a 3-year-old in October 2015 sent Ravndal — a father of young children — into a spiral and an eventual diagnosis of a post-traumatic stress disorder. He struggled at home and at work.

″″After that (call) I ... lost my soul,” he told the Lincoln Journal Star .

In May 2017 a therapist who specializes in working with first responders told Ravndal to take time off to heal.

He burned through sick time and vacation time until August 2017, when he took family medical leave. He returned to light duty at his Lincoln Fire & Rescue station a month later. He got worse.

Ravndal eventually spent weeks learning new coping strategies at the International Association of Fire Fighters Center for Excellence in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

Ravndal said he emailed Fire Chief Michael Despain in January 2018, asking for accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act for the service dog he was getting.

On Feb. 20 Ravndal again asked to discuss bringing the dog, Pride, to work, but city officials said they needed other information about Ravndal’s medications.

The next day, Ravndal faced a tough decision: Show up for work on light duty — without Pride — or be terminated because his time under the Family Medical Leave Act had expired.

So Ravndal went to work.

On Feb. 22 Assistant City Attorney Don Taute told Ravndal his light duty was the city’s accommodation for his condition.

Ravndal’s therapist continued to push the city to let Ravndal take his service dog to work. On Aug. 27 Taute sent an email approving Ravndal’s request to have his dog at work for up to six weeks.

“In summary, the City is willing to allow the requested accommodation, but there must be considerable progress exhibited during the time the dog is with Mr. Ravndal in the workplace,” Taute said.

After those six weeks, Ravndal had to make another decision: He still couldn’t go out on emergency calls, so he had to take a disability retirement or be fired for exhausting his time on light duty.

He retired last September.

Ravndal still loves the department, he said, but not the way he was treated.

“I may have gone back to the rigs,” said Ravndal. “What is clear is that I tried to go back, and City Hall would have no part of making an accommodation.”

“It is the city’s position the handling of Mr. Ravndal’s case was done completely in compliance with the law taking into consideration the factual circumstances and medical information available throughout the pendency of Mr. Ravndal’s case,” Taute said in an email to the Journal Star. “The matter has now been voluntarily settled by the parties, and Mr. Ravndal is currently receiving full duty disability benefits pursuant to the provisions of the City’s Police and Fire Pension Plan.”

Since his retirement, Ravndal has focused on rebuilding the relationships with his family and considering the next step in his career.

“I still have bad days,” Ravndal said. ”(Pride) doesn’t cure it, but it definitely makes it far easier to go and do things ... and just stay focused. Life itself is not simply survival.”

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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