Alabama 1st state to include peer support training in the curriculum for firefighter recruits

(Cullman Tribune file photo)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Alabama is the first state in the nation to include peer support training in 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).

It is reported that 37% of firefighters struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and firefighters are three times more likely to die on the job than in other occupations. Tragically, every other day a firefighter loses his life by suicide.

According to International Association of Fire Fighters President Edward Kelly, the nationwide peer support program will be a valuable cornerstone in assisting firefighters in need.

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

To date, over 120 PFFA members have received training in the peer support program and all new firefighters will complete the training, which will help meet the need for qualified mental and behavioral health personnel on the ground.

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

The Alabama Fire Responder Peer Support website explains that because responders are also firefighters, they are particularly empathetic and understanding of their peers’ struggles in the day-to-day life of a firefighter. While not advisors, they have received special training to help their peers in need and have fought many of the same battles.

Their website provides the following information.

Silent Signs of First Responder Stress:

  • sleep disturbance
  • irritability
  • Abuse of alcohol and/or prescription drugs
  • Physical complaints
  • Regularly late for work
  • pessimism, hopelessness or depression
  • Physical/emotional pain
  • Suicidal thoughts (call immediately)
  • Inactivity at work, anger, secret crying, bitterness

Self Care Tips:

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

For more information for firefighters, visit www.afrps.com. The 24/7 crisis hotline is 844-525-3473 (FIRE).

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