More than 50 fire service personnel from across Wisconsin attended Rosecrance’s Reading Smoke training on September 16 at the Marriott in Downtown Milwaukee. Attendees learned about behavioral health concerns in the industry and how they can provide support to their own departments.
“Fire fighters train on a daily basis, but not on mental health.” Dan DeGryse, Director of the Rosecrance Florian Program said, “The goal of these trainings is to provide awareness and access to resources.”
DeGryse says first responders face a higher risk of developing certain physical and behavioral health issues due to the stressful nature of their jobs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, exposure to stress or trauma can also make a person particularly vulnerable to substance abuse. Research has shown that 56 percent of career firefighters report binge drinking compared to less than 20 percent of the general population (Center for Fire Rescue & EMS Health Research/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Dr. Raymond Garcia, Director of the Rosecrance Harrison Campus, presented on post-traumatic stress disorder. Garcia says about 8 percent of the population will develop PTSD, but for first responders, some studies have shown rates as high as 37 percent. Additionally, 50 percent of people with PTSD will develop alcohol dependence.
There is also a strong correlation between substance abuse and suicide. Research has shown that the strongest predictor of suicide is alcoholism, not a psychiatric diagnosis, and people with substance use disorders are about six times more likely to commit suicide than the general population (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
DeGryse says a diet rich in fatty acids, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc is good for managing the symptoms stress can have on your body. Garcia says other ways to deal with stress are exercise, meditation and laughter.
Jason Mims, Health and Safety Officer with the Milwaukee Fire Department, shared his expertise on what it takes to build a successful wellness program. Mims was an integral part of bringing the Wellness/Fitness Initiative to Milwaukee. The program was developed by the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs and incorporates medical services, injury rehabilitation, behavioral health, physical fitness and health education. Peer training is also a main aspect of the program, providing counseling and support by peer leaders. DeGryse says he hopes to see more employee assistance programs incorporate this initiative into their department.
Patrick Kenny, Fire Chief in Western Springs, closed the afternoon with a personal story about his son he lost to suicide and discussed the realities of substance abuse and mental health within the fire service. He stressed the importance of peer support when it comes to dealing with sensitive situations that first responders face. Kenny is also a member of the Rosecrance Florian Program Advisory Panel and consults with Rosecrance staff for ongoing guidance.
DeGryse says the training was a success and plans to do more in the future, “Once we open the door to discussion, they always want to hear more.”
If you are interested in attending a training or receiving more information, call Dan DeGryse at 815-387-2461.