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Volunteer honored for stress-relieving work

| Sunday, May 6, 2012, 5:25 p.m.

Before Jacquelyn Albert helped to create a volunteer critical-incident team in Fayette County, emergency responders and law enforcement officers had few options for relieving the stress from a traumatic event.

"Usually, when something bad happened, everybody just met at the bar," said Mary Ann Novak, an emergency medical technician and public relations director for Fayette Emergency Services.

That hasn't been the case for the past 12 years.

Police officers, firefighters and emergency workers honored Albert at the Uniontown fire hall on Friday for her dedication in developing and expanding the county's volunteer stress-debriefing group. The Georges Township woman has been the group's director since its inception.

Albert, a licensed social worker and registered nurse, assisted in spearheading the stress-debriefing service after witnessing a Pittsburgh team work at The Uniontown Hospital in 1993. At that time, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center had the only critical-incident team in the region.

Several who gathered yesterday to thank Albert for her work noted that the public safety community operates as a protective family that often is wary of outsiders. Albert has shown a level of strength, knowledge and compassion that has helped the group survive and grow, they said.

Novak, one of the team's original volunteers, said Albert quickly earned the respect of longtime officials, such as Fayette County Emergency Management Director Roy Shipley Jr. and Uniontown Police Chief Kyle Sneddon.

Besides employment as a therapist, Albert is a volunteer K-9 handler for Uniontown police and also recently earned her EMT certification.

"Whenever the old dogs accept her, then that means she's doing all right," Novak said.

Not everyone immediately recognized the importance of such a group, though. Uniontown Police Capt. Ron Kozak said he was a critic before Albert humbled him into realizing what an asset the team is for the county.

"I didn't think it was necessary," he admitted yesterday. "She was taking a bunch of good policemen and making them sissies."

The debriefing team now features about 50 volunteers from the fields of law enforcement, emergency responders, firefighting and mental health.

"You get out there and you see the worst of the worst in these jobs," said Scott Dolan, a planner and trainer for Fayette County emergency management and the fire chief for Hiller. "Jacquie helps people put the pieces back together again."

Albert also received credit for helping to establish critical-incident teams in other areas, such as Morgantown, W.Va.

"She is not only a champion for us as police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel, she is a warrior in the endless task of educating public safety officials on the life-or-death matter of critical-incident stress," Morgantown First Sgt. Joel C. Smith wrote in a letter about Albert.

Albert deflected credit yesterday for the team's success, lauding the public safety personnel who were honoring her.

"Once people have experienced a debriefing, they have a greater tendency to call us again," she said.

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