Firefighters get peer support training

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - The Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District is supporting endeavors by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and Truckee Meadows Firefighters Association IAFF 2487 in developing a peer support program that will benefit many fire agencies in northern Nevada. Training for the program started in February, and continues in March.

Attendees from fire agencies across northern Nevada including Truckee Meadows Fire, City of Reno, City of Sparks, City of Elko, Carson City, East Fork Fire, Central Lyon County Fire, and North Lake Tahoe Fire convened March 5 and 6 for peer support training. Fire agencies from other states will also be in attendance, including California, Oregon and Montana.

The stresses faced by firefighters and paramedics throughout their careers – tragedies such as the events of September 11, 2001, the Boston Marathon bombing, and everyday emergencies such as house fires and car accidents – can have a cumulative impact on their mental health and well-being. Our region has experienced its share of tragedies involving first responders to include the Reno Air Race crash and Carson City IHOP shooting, both in 2011. Unexpectedly gruesome sights, mass causalities or loss of friends can severely traumatize fire personnel.

In the past, the general culture of the fire service has made it difficult for firefighters to seek emotional support. In one study, 92 percent of firefighters said that stigma was a barrier to behavioral health treatment.

Firefighters say peer support programs have been demonstrated to be an effective method for providing support to occupational groups, including firefighters. An active peer support program that includes firefighters from across the region will help create a support network for the mental and physical health of our first responders, with trained assistance. Strong mental health translates to improved public service.

Approximately 20 percent of firefighters and paramedics have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to Truckee Meadows Fire. PTSD can have devastating consequences if untreated and is often associated with other behavioral health problems, such as depression, substance abuse, family dysfunction, violence and increased risk of suicide.