Answering The Call At Bomb Site Area Psychologist Will Counsel Victims - And Rescue Workers.

Posted: April 26, 1995

CHESTER — Joseph O. Prewitt Diaz is taking an unpaid leave of absence from his job here to work 1,400 miles away at no pay on tasks yet to be determined.

Why?

"The Good Book says everyone has a ministry; I see this as my ministry," said Prewitt Diaz, who was to leave this afternoon for Oklahoma City to serve as coordinator of mental health services in the aftermath of the federal building bombing there. His duty will conclude on May 5.

Prewitt Diaz, 51, of Lancaster, is a school psychologist with the Chester Upland School District and a volunteer with the Disaster Mental Health Services of the American Red Cross. When he learned on Monday that he was needed in Oklahoma, he made arrangements to go.

"My mother was an American Red Cross employee, and I've been involved in disaster relief since 1976," Prewitt Diaz said. "As a native of Puerto Rico, I've always felt volunteering with the American Red Cross was my way of saying thank you to America."

At the scene, Prewitt Diaz said, he expects to coordinate a team of mental health professionals to counsel victims and rescue workers at the explosion site.

Prewitt Diaz is well-schooled in such tasks, having served in the Civil Air Patrol for 35 years and having reported to the scene of numerous natural and manmade disasters.

"The role of the American Red Cross worker is to help the client deal with the grief that is felt," Prewitt Diaz said.

Grieving, he said, begins with denial, then becomes confrontation. The next phase is mentally reliving the life of the person who has been lost and questioning how the disaster could have happened.

The final stage, he said, is accepting how life will be different and moving forward with one's own life.

The disaster's toll is also felt by the Red Cross volunteers, Prewitt Diaz said. For this reason, he said, it is important to have volunteer mental health workers limit their work to three hours at a time, followed by an hour of rest.

In addition, Prewitt Diaz said, relief workers need to talk about their own grief with other mental health professionals.

"Red Cross people don't want to go home (after a disaster), because they become emotionally attached to the people they are working with," he said. ''It is the role of the mental health worker to acknowledge the contribution made by the volunteers and assure them the people they came to help will be OK."

Prewitt Diaz said that along with coordinating the mental health team, he probably will also be involved in one-on-one counseling of victims and rescue workers - or may even work in a soup line or operate a forklift.

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