The Asheville Fire Department proudly accepted the Community Service award for 2021 from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) at their virtual World Congress 16 conference held May 25-27. The WNC Peer Support Network nominated AFD based on our proactive approach to resilience and mental health wellness for our firefighters.
PTSD in firefighters has not only been a focus for AFD, but it has also been a national focus for the fire service as a whole. AFD has been leaders in preventing, identifying, and treating PTSD in its firefighters. Over the past 10 years, AFD has developed a multi-component model with many initiatives led by their firefighters. The following are examples of their programs.
The City of Asheville provides counseling and assistance to all employees through their Employee Assistance Program. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. Callers immediately hear a live voice when they call. A licensed clinician takes all calls for assistance and can provide in-the-moment support.
In 2011, several AFD personnel completed the ICISF Group and Individual Crisis Intervention courses and started the AFD Peer Support team. This group became active members of the WNC Peer Support Network regional CISM team. AFD Peers have led the CISM response to numerous critical incidents impacting agencies across the WNC region.
Also in 2011 an AFD Firefighter began a faith based support program that consists of chaplains from different faiths. This program connects firefighters with the faith community to meet their needs and support them and works closely with the internal Peer Support team and the regional CISM Network.
AFD members are provided tools to continuously monitor the stress of other firefighters and quickly recognize and appropriately help firefighters in need of interventions to promote healing. This is through a Stress First Aid Program started in 2014 and is taught by a Fire Captain who is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor with extensive crisis intervention experience.
AFD firefighters are taught resiliency in the fire academy in their initial recruit training. This is through a Resilient Mind Program that was developed in 2015 by one of their Fire Engineers and a local Licensed Clinical Therapist. This five week program teaches firefighters practices and strategies to prevent PTSD throughout their careers.
TIP of WNC is a group of volunteers where citizens help citizens in times of crisis. In 2015 the City of Asheville signed on with TIP to have specially trained volunteers respond to a scene if called on by emergency services personnel. TIP volunteers help to provide support to survivors of a tragedy at a time when they are emotionally traumatized and therefore take that responsibility off the first responders.
Many of AFD’s firefighters have been trained as peer support members. These members have tools to provide behavioral health support to their fellow firefighters and serve as a bridge to resources and behavioral health treatment when indicated. This training, which was initiated in 2016, is required to promote to all supervisory positions.
AFD utilizes embedded behavioral health clinicians for their firefighters and their families’ behavioral health treatment and support. Initiated in 2019 these clinicians have proven to be very successful in providing immediate access and care for AFD firefighters. Clinician resources were doubled in December to ensure their availability to firefighters as well as their embedded presence in the fire stations. All of the embedded clinicians are also trained and certified in Critical Incident Stress Management.
The Asheville Fire Department is committed to providing as many resources to our firefighters as possible pertaining to critical incident stress management,” states Fire Chief Scott Burnette. “ I am very proud that the support provided to our firefighters was initiated and led by our very own firefighters. The behavioral health of our firefighters and their families is a top priority for our department and we will continue to seek additional ways to support them.”
The newest resource for our firefighters in 2021 is an app called Safe Plus More. This resource offers an innovative and safe way for firefighters who are in a personal crisis to communicate, get support and assistance at the touch of of a finger. Safe Plus More creates a platform of information, supportive counseling, resources and a safety beacon to continually support firefighters they serve.
Click here to listen to an interview where Chief Burnette discusses the behavior health program and benefits.