Firefighters and EMS Fund had the pleasure of once again attending the Fire-Rescue International conference, held this year in Atlanta, GA. Fire-Rescue International, or FRI, is the annual conference hosted by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, an organization founded over 140 years ago, which boasts over 12,000 members of the international firefighting community.
On August 6th, fire and EMS professionals held an educational symposium that focused on emergency response and mental health issues within the first responders community. Speakers from across the country came together to pass on their knowledge and better equip first responders to tackle on-the-job issues. Some highlights of the symposium included:
Reverend Dr. Jason Cashing, an ordained minister at Gregory Memorial Presbyterian Church and chaplain for Prince County, Virginia, spoke about strengthening mental resilience and protecting oneself from “burn out” from stress.
Reverend Dr. Cashing highlighted the acronym “BREATHE”:
B- Breathe In
A- Assist one another
T- Talk to someone
H- Hang in there
Excess stress can lead to damaged personal relationships, substance abuse, and even suicidal ideations.
Jason Lovitz, an eight-year veteran of Norfolk Fire and Rescue, spoke about PTSD and coping with traumatic experiences.
Some fire departments only provide coping resources to those individuals who respond to calls involving deaths, but trauma comes from many sources, and departments should work to expand their resources to care for all possible health disorders.
Dr. Mark Kruse from Front Line Behavioral Health, a psychologist with expertise in behavioral health and the assessment and treatment of trauma-related issues, echoed Mr. Lovitz statements, saying that firefighters often do reach out for help until someone they are close to put pressure on them to do so
The key to getting firefighters to open up is providing a safe and confidential environment in which to discuss their feelings. Mental health education should also be provided during fire academy training and continue throughout the firefighter’s career.
In addition to these riveting speakers, the following experts also made presentations:
- Matthew Marrieta, Deputy Fire Chief in Georgia
- Judith Glick-Smith discussed leadership training
- Dr. Hazedean Smith, originally from Jamaica and currently an Assistant Fire Chief from Orlando, Florida, presented research on the public’s attitude towards EMS officials
- Peter Sutterfield discussed disaster response procedures
- Katelyn Kapalo spoke on the importance of pre-incident planning
We look forward to staying involved with FRI and IAFC in the future and can’t wait to attend our next symposium.