FDNY personnel and their families have people they can turn to, to share their feelings as they cope with not only with everyday trials and tribulations but the anguish of the terrorists' attack on Sept. 11.
The 28 professional counselors and 40 peers don't just wait in one of six locations for firefighters and EMS personnel to walk in. They're out in the stations, homes or wherever they need to be.
Since Sept. 11, the staffing of the FDNY Counseling Services Unit has increased in an effort to keep up with the number of people who need mental health services, explained Malachy P. Corrigan, director.
"We have four times the number of clients we used to see 10 years ago," he said, adding that the issues run the gambit from anxiety to substance abuse.
Corrigan said personnel have struggled to maintain their everyday lives including marriages and working. Some have turned to drugs and alcohol. Some have committed suicide.
In addition to tending to the mental health of active personnel, their immediate family and retired FDNY crews also are included.
Corrigan said it's important to involve the family so they understand what's going on, and how they can help. Support is essential for success.
Many of those assisted go on to take the training to become peers to help their comrades. The director added that they keep an eye on the volunteers to guard against burnout. It's important they modify their behavior. "You don't want to take on the trials or the hurts of people you are trying to help."
Some peers have degrees in mental health studies or social work, and are happy to share their knowledge and experience. People often feel more comfortable talking with someone who's experienced the same feelings.
Counselors generally see a spike in clients around and after the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center that claimed 343 FDNY firefighters. And, Corrigan says he expects the same thing this year. "The pressure on the families has intensified."
The counseling unit is funded by federal money, the FDNY, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation as well as other sources.
The original unit was established in 1966 after two FDNY firefighters -- recovering alcoholics -- petitioned the department for it. In the '70s, it was expanded to assist personnel with other substance issues.
After, Sept. 11, it was increased again to help the FDNY family cope.