Stuart Patterson still wakes up in the middle of the night with flashbacks, 18 months after retiring from the police force.
Certain memories, such as a hotel fire in Hamilton where people jumped out of the windows, or facing the families of fatal car crash victims, have stuck with him.
"That's par for the course for so many retired police officers, I'm one of thousands," the former Waikato officer told the Herald.
Patterson said policing is different from when he started in 1993, and he wonders about the morale of "bright young officers" as they face increasing violence and injuries on the job.
That's why he's backing efforts by charity Te Kiwi Māia to raise funds to build a homestead retreat for first responders, Defence Force personnel and their families, as a place for recuperation and therapy.
First responders include police, Fire and Emergency, St John, Wellington Free Ambulance, Surf Lifesaving, Coastguard and rescue helicopters.
While the homestead is still in the conception phase, it's hoped sponsored care can be provided to guests who stay for a short period. The charity is currently looking for land to build on and raising money for the multi-million-dollar project - with a goal to have purchased land by the end of next year.
"[The homestead would provide] the ability when you do get injured, mentally and physically at work, and you're dealing with something really critical, that you can be taken away from your work environment," said Patterson.
"You're away from home, you're away from work, you're away from the scene where you were damaged and you've got a chance to repair properly."
Patterson sees it as a way to help retain the emergency services workforce.
"We need to care for them. We want them to stay in the job and make it a lifelong career, not just a five-year job."
Charity founder and chairwoman Rebecca Nelson described the homestead vision as a "Kiwi spin" on the British 'Help for Heroes' model for wounded veterans.
Guests will have short stays at the homestead in individual rooms, but there will be shared spaces like the lounge and garden. Different forms of rehabilitation and therapy will be offered, something Nelson said worked successfully at the Help for Heroes Tedworth House in England. Her visit there is what inspired her to set up Te Kiwi Māia.
As a reservist in the Royal New Zealand Navy, Nelson has seen the impact working in the Defence Force can have on staff.
It would serve as an additional option for people experiencing psychological and physical injuries as a result of their job, alongside existing support systems offered within individual emergency services.
"You think of the [Christchurch] mosque shootings, and you just think, where did they all go afterwards?" said Nelson.
"It could be a place where police say to their crew, 'Right guys, we're going to send you there for a week to decompress, to go for hikes, be with nature'.
"It's not like we'll sit in a room and talk. It's more like get your hands dirty, go out into New Zealand beauty and get back to grounding yourself."
Nelson hopes that eventually the retreat space will be utilised by first responders and their families before reaching "breaking point".
Nelson is currently on the lookout for land to build the homestead on, and hopes the farming community can help. She and her team continue to raise funds for what is projected to be a multi-million-dollar project including through Givealittle and selling merchandise.
In the meantime "wellness retreats" for groups of 12 first responders are being organised in Auckland, with the help of Massey University.
Nelson notes the support she has received from all emergency services, and said she meets regularly with their wellness officers. Former first responders also make up the charity's board and advisory board.
"There are so many people that need help, there's not enough people to do the job within the organisations," she said.
Similarly, Patterson said he is "not critical of police at all" and felt "well supported" throughout his career.
"There's no criticism of them, it's just they are limited in what they can do and Te Kiwi Māia is that next step."
Patterson, who retired in January 2020, said it was still difficult for some colleagues to proactively ask for help.
"I don't think people are too forthcoming. As a supervisor it was rare for someone to come to me and say ... 'I need to go and have some support'.
"The reluctance to talk is probably just who we are as people. The opportunity is there to talk we just don't do it, and it's not in our nature. We're supposed to be strong and represent a particular section of society that can deal with stuff."
St John, police, Fire and Emergency and the Defence Force have an array of support services offered to staff, including clinical psychologists, chaplains, welfare officers, counselling and online advice.
Police officers involved in fatal shootings are provided a minimum 10 days' leave, and counselling is mandatory for any officer where there has been a serious injury or loss of life has occurred as a result of them carrying out their duties.
Defence Force personnel can access a 24/7 confidential support line, social workers and other support staff. All deployed personnel undergo post-deployment screening on their return to New Zealand and follow-up three to six months later.
Over the last two years, more than 4800 career and volunteer firefighters across the country attended psychological wellbeing workshops, Fire and Emergency said.
Former and current first responders spoken to by the Herald said they would have made use of the homestead retreat, or offered it to team members under them.
Former professional firefighter Jemarl Paerata
Jemarl Paerata initially dealt with traumatic callouts such as road deaths and suicides by suppressing them.
He said sometimes during his 18 years as a professional firefighter in Auckland he didn't want to show weakness for fear of it being exploited.
"The problem with my strategy is sooner or later over the years you run out of room in the hard drive in your head to store all this stuff and you become vulnerable when you haven't got anywhere to store it anymore."
He would sometimes come home from responding to a serious car accident to have breakfast with his family, who had no idea what he'd just witnessed.
"There was a moment for me when I went to a car accident and a young girl was badly injured, that was pretty tough to see that. I've got a son myself so it brings up all kinds of emotions when you see a young child badly injured, that's when you think I don't know how many more of those I want to go through."
Paerata was good at putting on a "brave face" until he became comfortable talking about his mental health.
"We need to be able to show a bit of vulnerability and talk about this stuff because we know it's a problem. If you look around and see what's happened in the last few years, especially in the fire service, we've had a few people take their lives.
"We all have a responsibility to try and stop that, and talking about it and expressing those feelings is half that battle."
St John Waitakere Territory Manager Andy Everiss
Andy Everiss said St John ambulance officers are "repeatedly exposed to trauma" and the demands of the job can "sneak up on us".
The job can prove challenging for Everiss when accidents involve young children.
"Being a parent myself, you really take on the emotions of parents. It really makes you appreciate how special your own tiny humans are when you see what we see in this role.
"Mental illness doesn't discriminate, so I think anyone in this job will tell you that even the toughest, strongest person is not immune to the effects dealing with trauma can have on their wellbeing."
Everiss said staff tend to put their patients' needs ahead of their own.
"Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, it is one of the bravest things you can do as a caregiver to let someone care for you."
Brigadier Chris Parsons
Former SAS commander Brigadier Chris Parsons still remembers a father in East Timor who travelled for days through the mountains with his sick daughter in his arms to find a doctor. Despite his efforts, the father arrived at a village about 20 minutes after the doctor had left.
"She was absolutely on death's door, so I got my medics to give her mouth to mouth and try and help her out and sent a vehicle to chase up the doctor but in the intervening time she passed away."
He spent 31 years serving with the Defence Force, including 15 years working in the SAS.
Parsons has offered up his Auckland home for Te Kiwi Māia wellness retreats.
"You don't get out of this job without a few scars," he told the Herald.
"If you look at any kid growing up without [a parent] or you look into the eyes of their widow it sticks with you."
Parsons saw people get post traumatic stress disorder while in Afghanistan in 2004, but back then he didn't fully understand what it was. During his first operation in the jungles in Africa in 1995, there was no support available.
He said Defence Force personnel are "much better now" at addressing mental health.
"Since then we've gone on a journey, we've come a long way but we've got some way to go as well.
"As a commander I would have always promoted Te Kiwi Māia to soldiers and families first."