Guest Commentary: A Preventable Tragedy

F ires. Car accidents. Domestic abuse. Death. There isn’t much a firefighter doesn’t see over the course of his or her career. Then factor in the pressures of the job, changing schedules and interrupted sleep patterns, and it is easy to see that...


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Recently, the NFFF unveiled a new model for dealing with exposure to potentially traumatic events. This model recognizes that not all firefighters and EMTs respond in the same way to a traumatic event, and thus the most effective post-exposure follow-up may not be the same for every individual. Resources and training for implementing Life Safety Initiative 13 are available at http://flsi13.everyonegoeshome.com/.

Recognizing that firefighters and their families sometimes need immediate assistance to deal with myriad problems, the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) teamed up with American Addiction Centers to create the National Fire Services Member Assistance Program. Firefighters, EMS personnel and their families can call this toll-free hotline for help dealing with any problems affecting their work or personal life, such as stress, depression, addiction, financial-management difficulties, critical incidents, relationship problems, work-related concerns and more. Trained firefighters and counselors familiar with the fire and emergency services are available 24/7. Call 1-888-731-FIRE (3473) for help or visit www.nvfc.org/help for more information.

A poster promoting the National Fire Services Member Assistance Program hotline and offering other steps department members can take to address behavioral health is included in this issue of Firehouse® Magazine. Hang the poster up at your station to let department members know that help is available and to remind them to make behavioral health a priority.

The NVFC, with support from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), has also released resources and training to help departments implement a behavioral health program. These include the report Suicide in the Fire and Emergency Services: Adopting a Proactive Approach to Behavioral Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention and the online training course Preventing and Coping with Suicide in the Fire and Emergency Services. Find these resources and more at www.nvfc.org.

In addition, the focus of the 2013 International Fire/EMS Safety and Health Week was behavioral health. Sponsored by the NVFC and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), this event takes place each June to spotlight a critical health and safety issue in the fire service and encourage all personnel to take steps to address the issue. The website www.safetyandhealthweek.org includes a lengthy list of resources and training available to help firefighters and their departments focus on behavioral health.

 

Need for training

There is a lot a department can do to proactively look after the mental well-being of its firefighters. Leadership should implement mandatory behavioral health training for all members and periodically re-emphasize the key points. Hold workshops where counselors or other qualified entities – such as critical incident stress management (CISM) teams, chaplains and training officers – address potential behavioral health issues and how to recognize signs and symptoms of distress so all personnel know what to look for and how to respond. Encourage fire academies to include at least four hours of behavioral health training for cadets so they know from the start that focusing on behavioral health is important.

It is also important to make an employee assistance program (EAP) available to all department members when they need it. If your department does not have this type of program in place, you can use the National Fire Services Member Assistance Program for this purpose. In addition, have effective retirement-planning procedures in place as many firefighters suffer from stress, depression or loss of identity when faced with leaving the fire service after dedicating their lives to it.

With all that firefighters do to protect their communities, it is equally important that we protect each other. Our job is to help people in need, so be there when that person is one of our own. n