Police and the Purple Heart: How an Easthampton sergeant and a Vietnam War vet forged a friendship

  • Joe Farrick, a Vietnam war Marine veteran, talks Saturday, March 9, 2019, about an early morning fire two weeks earlier that rendered uninhabitable the two-family home he owns on Pine Street in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Joe Farrick, a Vietnam War Marine veteran, talks Saturday about an early morning fire two weeks earlier that rendered uninhabitable the two-family home he owns on Pine Street in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Joe Farrick, a Vietnam war Marine veteran, talks Saturday, March 9, 2019, about an early morning fire two weeks earlier that rendered uninhabitable the two-family home he owns on Pine Street in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • This two-family home on Pine Street in Easthampton, owned by Vietnam war Marine veteran Joe Farrick, was heavily damaged in a fire in the early morning hours of Feb. 22. Photographed on Saturday, March 9, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sgt. Bruce Nicol, the veterans liaison officer for the Easthampton police Department at the Easthampton war memorial. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sgt. Bruce Nicol, the veterans liaison officer for the Easthampton police Department, at the Easthampton war memorial. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • This two-family home on Pine Street in Easthampton, owned by Vietnam war Marine veteran Joe Farrick, was heavily damaged in a fire in the early morning hours of Feb. 22. Photographed on Saturday, March 9, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 3/12/2019 11:57:32 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Nearly three weeks ago, an electrical fire caused significant damage to a duplex owned by Joe Farrick and occupied by his son, daughter and grandchildren. The fire left Farrick’s family who lived there without a home.

Farrick received a call from his daughter that their house had caught fire, and he soon arrived at the duplex on Pine Street. In the early morning of Feb. 22, firefighters extinguished the flames within 35 minutes, and first responders made sure everyone was safe.

Thanks to the firefighters’ swift and effective response, there were no injuries. In the days after the fire, Farrick also noted the response of a police officer who stayed with him that morning and who is one of many city police officers who have received special training to assist veterans.

Farrick, who served in the U.S. Marines, will be the first to tell you that he suffers from wounds “not visible” from his days of combat service and that coping with anxiety is a battle that continues to this day. He will also tell you that he — like many combat veterans — suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I cannot sing the praises enough of the Easthampton Police Department in respect to how professional and courteous they were to me,” said Farrick, a 73-year-old Vietnam War combat veteran and a Purple Heart recipient.

When Farrick arrived at the scene, he says he introduced himself as the owner of the building and informed one of the police officers that he suffers from anxiety. The manner in which the Easthampton police and fire departments supported him during and after the fire made a world of difference to him, he said.

In late fall 2017, Easthampton Police Chief Robert Alberti appointed Sgt. Bruce Nicol as a veterans liaison to the community — he came up with the idea on Veterans Day — and since then, patrol officers have received training on handling situations involving veterans. 

“Our police never had any formal training with regards to veterans and veterans’ experience with traumatic brain injuries and PTSD,” Alberti said. “You need to understand those things when dealing with a veteran in crisis … and like anything else, you are better equipped to help someone if you are educated on the underlying condition.” 

When police respond to an incident involving a veteran, Nicol follows up afterward to see if there are any additional services that the veteran may need. 

Staying in touch

Around the time he was appointed as the veterans liaison, Nicol met Farrick, and since then, the two have become friends. They speak around once a week, generally by phone, and talk about any number of subjects: the weather, Farrick’s 1962 Cadillac, how he’s getting along with the insurance company, to name a few.

“We just hit it off,” Farrick said.

“It helps to have someone to be able to call and talk to,” Nicol said. 

Along with his one-on-one work with veterans, Nicol is the point of contact for the city’s Veterans Council, American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Veterans Association. He has served on the Easthampton Police Department since 1994.

Through a program called Home Base, offered by the Red Sox Foundation in partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital, this past December and January police officers received online training, learning how to recognize veterans with PTSD and how to talk to those individuals.

The training helps police officers “trying to assist (veterans) in any way possible,” Nicol said. 

With Farrick, “Officers had the opportunity to utilize some of the new training they received,” Nicol said. “Joe called me and told me how much he appreciated it.”

Uniform anxiety

The training consisted of online modules dealing with various topics such as PTSD, suicide, and military culture, among others, Nicols said. Part of the training informed officers that, when responding to a call, their uniforms alone can be enough to raise anxiety for a veteran. 

“I have a slight adversity to authority,” Farrick said.

“Sometimes, someone in uniform turns them off, and they don’t want to talk to you,” Nicol said. “Knowing that is a big help.”

Other topics covered in the training include understanding the challenges for veterans coming home from war, helping to provide emotional support for military families, and dealing with substance abuse issues.

Farrick says he has advocated for the past decade for increased police training in regard to dealing with veterans. “The more awareness that law enforcement or people in authority — and people at large — have of PTSD is not only to their benefit but to veterans’ benefit,” Farrick said. 

Peaceful resolution

Nicol said that nine times out of 10, the police department is responding to a wellness check on a veteran, and an officer’s approach toward a veteran can de-escalate a situation. 

“Ask where they served. What branch? Did they see combat?” Nicols said. “Asking basic questions and being upfront as possible — and then letting them know you care and are there to help” can help bring about a peaceful resolution,” he added. 

Out of 28 members of the Easthampton Police Department, Alberti said that four are veterans themselves. He added that the Home Base training has made officers “better suited to help each other.” 

“We encourage any veteran that needs assistance to give us a call,” Alberti said. “These men and women of the military have given up everything to ensure our freedom, so it is important for us when they get back to Easthampton that we have services to provide to them.”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com.




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