Reflections for the inner life.
Some of my favorite people on the planet are firefighters. My brother has been a professional firefighter for 15+ years and I've loved having a front row seat into firefighter culture, living vicariously through him. I've hung around the firehouse from time to time, shared a few meals with his crew in restaurants and at the firehouse.
Earlier in the year, a couple local firefighters invited me into their developing conversation about Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) as a means of serving firefighters after a critical incident occurs. More than anything, it is exciting to spend time with first responders who see the need to deepen their care for one another and the next generation of firefighters.
Last week, I was given the rare opportunity (by these same local firefighters) to be fully immersed into the world of a firefighter. The "Florida Firefighter Health and Safety Collaborative" have developed an amazing strategy for streamlining psychological care for firefighters. FFHSC invited 40 licensed clinicians (mental health counselors, licensed social workers, clinical psychologists, etc) to an historic event tailored specifically for counseling professionals hoping to serve firefighters with even greater professional insight.
Here is the general description:
"This 2 day full immersion course is designed for clinicians and providers who desire to learn more about the unique firefighter culture in order to be more effective in treating firefighters. The class provides an extensive and understanding of Firefighter culture, lingo, lifestyle and details about the unique stressors the job entails. This training includes both classroom and live scenarios, including wearing turnout gear, watching a live burn training scenario, visiting fire stations and interacting with firefighters."
Firefighters and counselors have a shared sense of calling between them that is poignant. Neither group wants bad things to happen to people. However, when bad things do happen, we both want to be there.
"Being there" comes with a heavy price tag.
Over time, firefighters will be exposed to untold numbers of critical incidents that can wound them, often in unseen ways. Thankfully, there is a ground swell of interest among seasoned firemen who are actively curating care protocols for psychologically injured firefighters.
Over the course of the two day immersion, we heard from firefighters who had been the first on the scene at the Pulse Nightclub and Parkland High School shootings. One by one, we heard the brave and heroic stories from these firefighters., who generously invited us to catch a vulnerable glimpse of the emotional aftermath of a terrorist attack. It was holy ground to hear them tell their story.
As the brother of a career firefighter, I thought I had an understanding of what firefighter culture looked like. It was not until this immersion experience that I could even pair my perception with an actual live experience.
Coming away from my time in Orlando, I am looking forward to continuing to sharpen my craft in caring well for first responders. Minimally, spending a day with high speed professionals like these men and women will only make me a better therapist.
In a couple weeks, I will log 24 hours of live ride time with the St. Johns County Fire Department. This, paired with 16 hours of immersion, will vet me to be included on the statewide "Redline Rescue" database.
A LITTLE MORE FROM FFSHC:
The Clinician Awareness class was held June 26-27 at the Central Florida Fire Training Facility. Instructors Chris Bator, Jeremy Hurd, Larry Doelling, and Dustin Hawkins utilized this intensive class to provide clinicians an opportunity to learn more about the firefighter culture in order to be more effective in treatment of firefighters. The class was full with 45 attendees who enjoyed the unique learning experience and intimate insight. The intensive 16 hour program's content immerses the student immediately into the unique language, dynamic personality, and trauma immersed life of the first responder. The Second portion of Day One allowed the clinicians a hands-on perspective of the intensity and physically demanding nature of what it means to "walk a mile in our boots". The clinicians "gear up" and got to work in the training tower in a simulated smoke environment with the goal of better understanding how the first responders function as a cohesive unit by preforming a building search and victim rescue.
Day Two allows the Clinicians to interact one on one with first responders whom have successfully developed resiliency skills through professional programs to better understand the mindset of first responders in crisis and how to bridge the gaps in treatment.
The participating clinicians and mental health professionals are being utilized to populate a resource map which is being shared state wide to increase the support options to all first responder agencies across Florida to meet the expanding mental wellness needs.
We are thankful to Lt Jeff Orrange City of Orlando Fire Department and Lt Anthony Willis from Orange County Fire rescue and the FFSHC Central Region for coordinating and planning this event. The Central Florida Fire Consortium provided an amazing facility and all the local Departments that committed resources made this event a huge success. In addition, we are very proud to have the support of the Central Florida fire service, Fire Chiefs Association, Cigna, University of Central Florida Restores program as well as the vendor support for this event from Ten-8 Fire Equipment.