Mental Health Awareness Month
The fire service has more than its fair share of challenges. From traumatic calls, seeing people in pain and suffering, risking firefighters’ own health for others whom they have never met, having an ever-changing schedule with lack of sleep, and solving problems in an instant – it is a recipe for mental health challenges.
It is no secret that firefighters and first responders lead many professions in suicide ideation, PTSD and depression. For decades, mental health was not discussed or acknowledged. Fortunately, times are changing. The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) has recognized these gaps in helping firefighters and their families. West Pierce Fire & Rescue has adopted a program called Peer Support to help assist co-workers with challenges they may be facing.
The Peer Support program is made up of peers within the department at every level, including firefighters, mechanics, administrative personnel and chaplains. They are often the first people others can go to since there is a level of trust, comfort and common experiences. Peer Support members are trained on how to look for peers with mental health challenges, how to actively listen, validate others feelings, refer to higher levels of support and/or counseling, and be a rock for all employees and their families. The goal is to create a safe environment for ALL employees where they can strive.
Some examples may include:
- Crew meetings after a traumatic call to talk and listen and comfort
- Physically traveling with personnel that may need further assistance
- Making phone calls, text messages, letters, go on walks, or meet at coffee shops with personnel who are off work due to and injury or illness, or struggling with personal challenges
- 1:1 listening to personnel in crisis or those who just need a friend to listen
Peer Support members were chosen by their peers, have a variety of personalities, are represented at every level of the department, attended a two-day IAFF Peer Support training, attend continuing education and meetings monthly, vet counselors and resources for WPFR personnel and families, and attend outside education and seminars. In addition, formal training sessions presented by mental health professionals is offered for all personnel.
This is no small feat and it is necessary for this team to continue to evolve as the needs of employees may shift. WPFR is proud of the work this group has done to get the program up and running and their continued dedication to the health, safety and well-being of all employees and their families.