GREAT FALLS- One year ago, firefighters from Great Falls Fire Rescue joined other departments from across the state to take part in peer support training.
IAFF Local 8 President David Van Son says this training is a shift from only focusing on the physical aspects of the job to shining a light on mental health.
“We can recognize that they need some help with post-traumatic stress, family issues, or anything that they might be dealing with that is coming from the job. Then we know to get them on the right track,” Van Son said.
Van Son says once the training had initially ended, a group of five people came together to start the process of putting peer support together for the department.
“We vetted some counselors. We got some treatment centers in Great Falls that are on board with us. We really took our time and developed the program,” Van Son said.
Van Son says it was important that they took this last year to put the program together because they found in their training if mistakes are made with one member, they would risk losing the trust of the rest of the department.
Van Son says they rolled out their peer support program to the department last week — but not just for firefighters.
“And we feel it is important we get the spouses on board because they might see something at home,” Van Son said.
They also have the support of the leadership within Great Falls Fire Rescue.
Van Son says the research that has been done by the International Association of Firefighters backs up why they are taking these steps to show their support for one another.
“They did a study back in 2017, and out of the total line of duty deaths for firefighters, there [were] 93, but there [were] 103 firefighters that took their own lives. It is based on the job that we do,” Van Son said.
The IAFF is also supporting these men and women by creating the Center of Excellence.
“It is a treatment facility specifically for firefighters and EMTs that are a part of the International Association of Firefighters. They help with post-traumatic stress, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and just anyone that is in trouble,” Van Son said.
And recently, the Montana Vet Program announced they are starting a program just for first responders called the Montana First Responders Program. They host trips in the wilderness that focus on peer-to-peer support.
“The first trip is in August. It is not just firefighters, it is firefighters, police officers. and emergency medical services. We see it for a career, we see trauma day in and day out.”
Van Son says as they move forward with the program, they will help educate their brothers and sisters on support for one another.
“Do not leave anyone behind that is suffering through mental health,” Van Son said.
-Margaret DeMarco reporting for MTN