NFFF Announces National Roll Out of New Behavioral Health Initiative

Emmitsburg, MD – The way to help firefighters who have dealt with potentially traumatic events is changing. Much has been learned from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s work in New York after September 11th and following the loss of 9 firefighters at a furniture store fire in Charleston, South Carolina in 2007. A briefing on this new model at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore later this week will answer all your questions as to how-as a chief officer, family member or colleague-you can help firefighters deal with the stress, grief and trauma that often go along with this profession.

As part of the Everyone Goes Home® program, a briefing on Initiative 13 – Behavioral Health (Consensus Protocol on Firefighter Behavioral Health) will be presented at Firehouse Expo on Friday, July 23, 2010 at the Hilton Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland. This new initiative is based on over three years of interdisciplinary consultation and national consensus building exercises.

Dr. Richard Gist and Vickie H. Taylor, LCSW, who lead the research and development team, will present the briefing to fire chiefs, state officials and other individuals with the potential to influence change within the firefighting community. The briefing will begin at 2:00 pm at the Hilton Hotel in the Johnson Room A&B, adjacent to the Expo Center. Following the briefing, Chief Ronald J. Siarnicki, Executive Director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, will host a reception that will include a participatory discussion seeking input on the implementation process for this new initiative. Pre-registration for this special event may be completed by E-mailing [email protected] or at the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s booth #2808 during the trade show. Pre-registration is not mandatory, but seating will be limited to seventy-five.

The Behavioral Health Initiative is one of the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives developed over the last six years as part of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s commitment to preventing firefighter line-of-duty injuries and deaths. They were developed in consultation with every leading fire service organization in the United States (Tampa, 2004). The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation has been working with the fire community to develop a consensus behavioral health model since the horrific events of September 11, 2001 when 343 firefighters (including 2 FDNY paramedics) were killed, and more than 2,000 first responders were injured. The model was also influenced by the Foundation’s support of the Charleston Fire Department in the aftermath of the Charleston Sofa Super Store fire in 2007.

According to Chief Siarnicki, behavioral health is as important as physical wellness. A firefighter who is exposed to a potentially traumatic event must be evaluated and offered treatment based on his or her particular situation. He continues, “This initiative ties directly to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s mission of to honor and remember America’s fallen fire heroes and provide resources to assist their survivors in rebuilding their lives. We have learned over time that failing to address grief and trauma incidents or symptoms quickly can have potentially devastating effects for firefighters, their organizations, and their families. Experts from the traumatic stress research community joined with National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and key fire service organizations to identify evidence based approaches that offer demonstrated potential for reducing the risk of long term core issues that can prevent firefighters from returning to duty.”

Richard Gist, Ph.D., is principal assistant to the director of the Kansas City (Mo.) Fire Department. He is an active researcher in public health and behavioral sciences, holding academic affiliations in several university and medical school settings. He holds an international reputation in both the emergency response and research communities as an author, researcher, lecturer, consultant, and commentator on psychosocial impacts of disaster and community response to catastrophe.

Vickie H. Taylor is a licensed clinical social worker that has worked in community behavioral health for 30 years at Prince William County Community Services. Currently, she is the director of Youth, Adult, and Family services, which includes outpatient programs for the treatment of mental health and substance use issues. Since 1985, she has served as a behavioral health consultant to the Prince William County Police and Fire-Rescue Departments. In addition, she has provided behavioral health consultation for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation since its inception in 1992.

This significant event for the fire service will be followed by the dissemination of training materials- for firefighters, their department, and the professionals who provide them mental health services-throughout the remainder of 2010.

Contact Information: [email protected]