Lakeland Fire Department rolls out Peer Support training
By Kathy Leigh Berkowitz
Posted Jan 20, 2019
The program was created to combat depression, suicidal thoughts and post-traumatic stress disorder faced by first responders.LAKELAND — Deaths of first responders to suicide, increased depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other symptoms of mental health trauma have led some fire department leaders to change the way they want to see their peers cope with the often stressful and heartbreaking job.
“Tradition is you just suck it up and go about your day, and just let it go,” Lakeland Fire Department Lt. Phil Green said Tuesday as the agency rolled out training for peer support last week. Firefighters fight the macho mentality, the pressure of presenting as invincible, Green said.
“There is a fear of saying, ‘I am not OK’,” he said, but “we are human just like everybody else.”
Green, 36, was one of those peers chosen to take the training in an effort to be a sounding board for fellow firefighters. At 14 years in fire services, he said now that the awareness is there, he hopes people speak up when they need to talk.
First responders face all kinds of trauma on a daily basis.
“Vehicle accidents, all different ages. People hang themselves, shoot themselves. Some are burned to death. I have seen children die. ... I have actually stepped in brain matter on scene. I have placed bodies in body bags,” he said.
One day Green said he answered a very bad call involving a child. As a father of a 4-year-old girl, Green said the call had “gotten to” him.
He met with a few other firefighters. “We said, let’s go get some coffee.”
An anonymous survey was distributed throughout the department, asking firefighters to write down the name or names of people they would turn to if they needed help coping with something. Those whose names popped up numerous times were gathered and brought to the training as the first peers to be certified under the program.read more here