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ACFR making sure first responders do not suffer in silence

Published: May. 11, 2022 at 3:57 PM EDT
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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - The Peer Support Group at Albemarle County Fire Rescue has been around for many years, but within the past few months it has added more resources to meet the growing need for mental health services within the department.

“A person can go through their whole life and see only one or two deaths. We have the potential to see a death a rotation, a death a shift. We see some of the most terrible things,” Peer Support Leader Suzanna Herndon said.

According to the CDC, fire fighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

“It’s not just first responders, police and fire and EMS,” Herndon said.

ACFR is making sure nobody suffers in silence.

“We’ve had a peer support group for a few years now, but here in the last year we’ve just brought on those 10 to 11 new people,” Herndon said. “We have people who reach out to us once a day. Sometimes it’s something really small, sometimes we really help out with a major incident. We also do debriefings after we run a terrible call that might put a lot of stress on our firefighters.”

Getting first responders to open up is saving lives.

“I think the one-on-one connections that go on with one peer support person and one fire fighter may contact them to deal with issues is a significant help as well,” Battalion Chief Meade Whitaker said. “I think there’s an expectation that we’re big and tough and firemen who can see and deal with all these things and we’re just fine. We can move on to the next call. That’s a stigma we need to overcome too. We’re all human.”

Herndon hopes more responders reach out if they’re struggling.

“You just have to be brave. It takes a lot of courage to reach out and make that first step to have connection with someone to receive help. But there are people who believe in you. You can do it,” she said.

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