As a former firefighter I know how we oftentimes have so many things going on in our lives (that training class you want to attend) or life in general that we forget to perform maintenance on our most important organ – our minds. Some would argue that our cardiovascular system is more important, and as a former paramedic, I’m not going to get into splitting synapses over this. Suffice it to say, and for this posting let’s focus on the mind – our emotional well-being.
In the past few years we have all seen an explosion in mental health training and maintenance programs. Great organizations such as the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the National Volunteer Firefighters Council (NVFC) have released mental health assessment and maintenance programs along with some very interesting reports. One report that every firefighter and fire chief should read is the Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders (download it here). It is the basis for many first responder mental health programs.
A mental health first aid program that is less-known is the National Council for Behavioral Health’s Mental Health First Aid for Fire and EMS. It is based on a very successful program started in Australia and introduced in the US several years ago. Initially it was a generic mental health/suicide prevention program. In 2019 the organization rolled out a version focused on firefighters, EMTs and paramedics. Below are stats and numbers that formed the basis of the fast-paced, interactive daylong program.
- 345,600 career firefighters (30%)
- 814,850 volunteer firefighters (70%)
- 71% of career firefighters worked in communities protecting 25,000 or more people
- 95% of volunteers were in departments protecting fewer than 25,000 people
- Median ages: FF (39) EMS (35)
- 826,111 credentialed EMS professionals (not including first responders)
- 68% of responders experienced at least one form of violence within the last year.
My colleagues and former partners tell about the daily onslaught of back-to-back-to-back calls. Poor or absent leadership. Equipment shortages or failures. And, the thought that the light at the end of the tunnel may be a train headed towards you. Just as you counsel your patients and those you comfort – take a breather, think through the problem and begin solving it one issue at a time. You can’t do it alone – trust me I know from personal experience. No matter how good you are at your job. No matter how smart you are. No matter how strong you are – everyone needs support. Seek it. Ask for it. And use it when it’s offered. If you want additional information where you can access this program, please drop me a line.
Take care and be safe. See you at the big one!