CPF District 8 represents the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, Local 112.


UFLAC HOSTS IAFF PEER SUPPORT TRAINING

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Every occupation comes with its own unique features and characteristics. The job of a professional firefighter is a highly sought after and well-respected position that has many demands. It is a challenging and exciting profession with the opportunity for growth and development, but it also comes with distinct risks and stress factors that simply do not exist in most other careers. The threat of serious injury, up to and including death, is a very real possibility; and the stress of any given call is simply different than the pressure of other jobs. 

The professional fire service recognizes that there is a cumulative effect of the stressors that firefighters face over the course of a career. This cumulative trauma is in addition to all of the normal stress that comes with daily living, such as relationships and finances, that can and do impact mental health and overall well-being. 

The Journal of Occupational Health estimates that approximately 20 percent of firefighters and paramedics suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and a Florida State University study demonstrated that nearly half of Firefighters have contemplated suicide, while approximately 15.5 percent have actually attempted suicide.

It has been found that peer support programs are an especially effective approach to mitigating the impact of cumulative stress, as well as creating an opportunity for members to talk with other members who have "been there themselves" and have received specialized training in peer support.

At United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, Local 112, we have actively taken steps to address behavioral health and wellness challenges. UFLAC’S Behavioral Health Program, and programs like it across the country, are beginning to give firefighters tools, training, and support that will assist them to be in a better position to effectively deal with the very real and unique stressors that are part of the job. 

UFLAC is making this mission a high priority, even renovating the old Fire Station 7 in Arleta to build a new, dedicated home for our Behavioral Health and Wellness Center. The center will be opening in the spring of 2018 and will assist members with behavioral health issues, addiction issues, and physical recovery from job-related injuries and illnesses. In addition, the center will assist members with workers’ compensation issues, financial issues, cancer support, and will sponsor a peer support team. These confidential services are free to our members and their families.

As part of our overall wellness program, UFLAC was excited to be able to offer the IAFF two-day Peer Support Training on November 30 and December 1, 2017. This training gave individuals the tools to be able to actively listen, provide important information and support, and become that bridge for a member in need to help them receive the professional assistance that they may require but may be hesitant to reach out for on their own.

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The training provided at the UFLAC Offices was an interactive course that was presented by experienced peers and clinicians who currently work/or have worked in the fire service. The training focused on active listening skills, suicide awareness and prevention, crisis intervention, referrals to local resources, and relationships with local behavioral health providers. 

In addition to the UFLAC Executive Board and our mental health professionals who run UFLAC’s Behavioral Health Program, the participants included LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas, LA County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby, LA County Fire Local 1014 President Dave Gillotte, IAFF 10th District Vice President Frank Lima, and IAFF Instructors Joe Lennon (FDNY) and Hugh Doherty (Toronto Professional Fire Fighters Association). The program also featured Special Guest Brendan McDonough, the lone survivor of the 20-man Granite Mountain Hotshot crew whose lives were claimed by the Yarnell Hill Fire. Brendan was brave enough to share his personal journey about struggling and coping in the aftermath of losing his Fire Family.

As we all know, the fire service has evolved over the years. Some of the changes, particularly with safety equipment, training, cancer awareness, and many other issues have been changes for the better. In addition, our collective awareness and willingness to discuss PTSD-related issues and receive the assistance that we need has also been a very positive step forward.

Our IAFF Peer Support Training Program was another sign that our profession is moving in the right direction. We need to acknowledge that sometimes we just can’t do it by ourselves. All firefighters need help from time to time. There is no shame in this fact. It is impossible to not be impacted by the things that we see and experience on a daily basis as firefighters. When it gets to be too much, firefighters need to remember that they are not alone. Resources are available and our peers are here to help. Contact your union leadership to get connected with services in your area.

I want to offer a huge thank you to all of the participants, coordinators, and special guest speakers who made this IAFF Peer Support Training Program such a resounding success. As the fire service continues to evolve, so will UFLAC as we continue to make the health and safety of our members and firefighters everywhere our very top priority.