Casey Nash, MPA, FSCEO
Wylie Fire Rescue (TX)
Mental Health is a Problem, so What’s my Responsibility?
By now you have heard the mental health statistics. If you have spent any amount of time in public safety you have probably experienced them within your own organization. We continue to lose more firefighters to suicide than those that die while carrying out their duties. Knowing that there is a mental health problem is the first step. Understanding how to manage it in your department is another. Getting a firefighter help in a true time of need can be a daunting challenge. But let’s keep it simple. The firefighter and the organization both have responsibilities.
First, the firefighter plays the largest role in their mental health. Financial decisions, nutrition, exercise, alcohol consumption, hobbies, relationships and sleep are just a few factors that firefighters must have some control over. Handling personal business shouldn’t just be a recommendation that we make to our new firefighters, it should become part of our culture. Employees need to hear this message the moment they walk in the door and they need to be held responsible for it. If you are messed up before you join the fire service, you are only going to get worse. This is an incredibly demanding job that can chip away at the most solid foundation. The fire service cannot be viewed as a means to repair an unhealthy personal life.
The second step falls on the organization. We must have both preventative care and post care in place for our employees. This is not a third parties’ responsibility. It is the responsibility of the fire chief. It is not enough to simply have access to the EAP. Today we are blessed with amazing resources that are flexible and affordable. Counseling teams now exist that specialize in the intricacies of public safety life. Develop a PEER Support team, a CISM team or both. This training is not rocket science. If you have employees that care about their brothers and sisters, you have all of the resources you need. This team is just as important as a special operations team and they should be viewed that way. The mental health team has a tremendous possibility of saving a life. Grab someone else’s SOG or policy and see what works for you. There are amazing examples of these teams throughout our state.
Don’t get overwhelmed or bogged down with all of the options, acronyms and hurdles that exist with mental health. I promise that you have a couple of firefighters that are passionate in this area and will hit the ground running if they are given direction. Do not wait until the emergency exists. The time to act is now.