FDNY Peer Counseling: Rewarding & Appreciated

After 9/11, the FDNY Counseling Unit recruited senior members of the department to provide information and educate firefighters about post-traumatic stress disorder.The FDNY Counseling Unit, under the direction of Malachy Corrigan, provides assistance...


After 9/11, the FDNY Counseling Unit recruited senior members of the department to provide information and educate firefighters about post-traumatic stress disorder.The FDNY Counseling Unit, under the direction of Malachy Corrigan, provides assistance to members seeking help with alcohol and...


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After 9/11, the FDNY Counseling Unit recruited senior members of the department to provide information and educate firefighters about post-traumatic stress disorder.The FDNY Counseling Unit, under the direction of Malachy Corrigan, provides assistance to members seeking help with alcohol and substance abuse problems, but also provides a range of services to members and their families as they struggle with emotional, social and medical issues.After 9/11, the Counseling Unit recruited senior members of the department to provide information and educate firefighters about post-traumatic stress disorder. Thousands of active and retired FDNY firefighters and their families have benefitted from this and other such programs. One of the counselors is Phil Duncan, who recently retired after 23 years and served as a firefighter in Ladder 28 in Harlem and lieutenant in Ladder 134 in Rockaway, Queens. Duncan discussed his experiences over the past two years as a member of the Counseling Unit in an interview conducted by Harvey Eisner.


Photo provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency
Many firefighters who operated at the World Trade Center before, during and after the collapses of the twin towers suffered some type of post-traumatic stress disorder. The FDNY Counseling Unit has visited every city firehouse numerous times, paying particular attention to those that lost large numbers of their members on 9/11.

Firehouse: How did you become involved with the Counseling Unit?

Duncan: I was down at the World Trade Center Sept. 11 and 12. On Sept. 12, I got a message from Firefighter Ralph Esposito, who was a counselor at the Fire Department Counseling Unit. He asked me if I would be interested in helping at the Counseling Unit. I asked what does it involve? He said going around and talking to the guys in the firehouses and giving them information and educating them about post-traumatic stress disorder and problems that they may have with stress. I said OK, how many days a week is it? He said it probably will be seven days a week, probably about 15, 16 hours a day. I called him back and said yes, I would be interested in doing it. I was on light duty from an injury and a shoulder operation, so they put me into the Counseling Unit as my light-duty assignment on Sept. 14 or 15.

Ralph Esposito and I went around to the firehouses. We visited around 10 firehouses a day, talking to the guys, doing debriefings, and letting them know the effects of something like this on themselves and all the different problems that they might have as far as nightmares and anxiety. Malachy Corrigan, the director, and Frank Leto were looking for guys and Dr. Kerry Kelly (FDNY chief medical officer) was hoping to get 30 firemen, whether they were retired or light-duty or full-duty firemen, to go into the Counseling Unit, to go around and discuss with guys the problems that this will cause on themselves as far as post-traumatic stress. I had no experience with the Counseling Unit before 9/11.

Firehouse: Please describe what you did every day.

Duncan: The first week or two, I worked at the World Trade Center, digging like everybody else and searching for victims, but then I split the day. I tried to do a 16- to 20-hour day - for 10 hours, I would be down at the World Trade Center and the other eight or 10 hours a day I would go around to firehouses talking to guys. We would go to each firehouse and have the guys come into the kitchen, then we would sit down with them, talk to them, and let them know that the Counseling Unit is available for themselves and for their families. We would tell them that if anybody was experiencing any nightmares or sleeping difficulties, that this was a normal situation, to be experiencing nightmares. We would sit down and do debriefings with the guys. They would range from an hour or two per firehouse, and then we would go to the next firehouse. Mainly, we concentrated on all the firehouses that had losses.

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