Alabama 1st state to include peer support training in fire recruit curriculum

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(Cullman Tribune file photo)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Alabama has become the first state in the nation to add peer support training to its curriculum for new fire school recruits, thanks to funding from the Alabama Department of Mental Health and support from the Professional Fire Fighters of Alabama (PFFA). 

According to reports, 37% of firemen and women have battled post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and firefighters are three times more likely to die on the job than those in other careers. Tragically, one firefighter loses his or her life to suicide every two days. 

The statewide peer support program will be a valuable keystone in aiding fire personnel in need according to International Association of Fire Fighters General President Edward Kelly. 

“Adding behavioral health and peer support counseling training into the recruit curriculum is groundbreaking work,” he said. “Firefighters in Alabama will be trained to not only recognize the signs and symptoms that someone needs behavioral health assistance, but they will also be equipped to counsel someone who is in crisis. Congratulations to the PFFA, its members, the Alabama Department of Mental Health and the Alabama Fire College making this possible.” 

So far, over 120 PFFA members have received training in the peer support program and all new fire fighters will undergo the training which will help meet the need of qualified personnel in mental and behavioral health in the field. 

PFFA President Dave Harer shared, “We are pleased that the (Alabama) Department of Mental Health and the fire college are working with us to meet this critical need. With more trained peer support counselors, the Alabama First Responder Peer Support Program will be better able to provide behavioral health assistance, including help with substance abuse, critical intervention and referrals.” 

The Alabama Fire Responder Peer Support website explains that, as those answering calls are also fire personnel, they are especially empathetic and understanding to their peers’ struggles in the day-to-day life of a fire responder. While they are not counselors, they have received specialized training to help their peers in need and have fought many of the same battles. 

Their website offers the following information. 

Silent signs of first responder stress: 

  • Fatigue 
  • Sleep disorder 
  • Irritability 
  • Alcohol and/or prescription drug abuse 
  • Physical ailments 
  • Late for work regularly 
  • Feeling pessimistic, hopeless or depressed 
  • Physical/emotional pain 
  • Suicidal thoughts (call immediately) 
  • Inaction on the job, anger, secretly crying, bitterness 

Tips for self-care: 

  • Eat healthier and drink more water 
  • Drink less caffeine/alcohol 
  • Get an annual physical exam 
  • Exercise daily 
  • Get some rest 
  • Talk with someone you trust 

More information for firefighters can be found at www.afrps.com. The 24/7 crisis hotline is 844-525-3473 (FIRE). 

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