Emergency Responders get lesson on mental health, communication

Published 9:42 am Monday, October 18, 2021

Decatur County Fire and Rescue, along with multiple other regional agencies, recently took part in a class funded by the Department of Public Health that teaches emergency responders how to have open conversations about mental health issues.

“We started a push in the fire service for assisting fire fighters in lowering physical injury rates, but the increase in suicide statistics showed we are not okay,” Assistant Chief Jamie Earp said.

Because of this, Earp, along with his co-workers sought out a way to “help the helpers.”

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“We wanted to make sure we were taking care of our own and were able to open that line of communication when we knew something was wrong,” Earp said. “This class allowed us to learn how to do that.”

The class was opened up regionally and had representation from Thomas County Fire and Rescue, Ichauway Fire and Rescue, Grady EMS, DCFR, Albany Department of Public Health and Dougherty County EMS.

“This was something that was all inclusive,” Public Information Officer Tyler Dalton said. “They didn’t have to be active; they could be a retired police officer or EMS. That way, no matter the situation, someone could help start the conversation.”

The class specifically focused on how to start the conversation about mental health and how to pick out certain differences in behaviors when first responders see them.

“It really broke down the rates of PTSD in different types of services,” Earp said.

Several areas across Georgia participate in these classes, however this corner of Southwest Georgia did not have a regional class they could partake in or someone they could open up to.

“The idea was to work collectively in our area, so fire chiefs weren’t’ forced to talk to their own people, because they are more likely to talk to open up to someone they don’t know as well,” Earp said.

Dalton said he knows it can be difficult to even discuss those issues with someone and sometimes the listener doesn’t know how to respond, but this has really taught him how to have that communication.

“I never would’ve guessed the statistics were as high as they were, so learning how to communicate has been the most beneficial thing for me,” Dalton reiterated.

Dalton and Earp do realize though that responding to these types of calls are not for everyone and they do not pretend to be psychologist; they just want their coworkers to know that they have access to help regionally and have resources across the state.

“We are either able to help them or can refer them to help,” Dalton said. “We start at ground level and build from there.”

Dalton and Earp want both their department, along with other departments to know there is no judgement.

“Starting off in the fire service, I never expected to have to take a class like this,” Dalton said. “But, as time goes on, there are calls you start to remember, and sometimes it’s not even work related; it may be something going on in your personal life.”

Dalton and Earp’s main goal from this point forward to help other first responders identify things they may notice or may not even see in themselves before it leads to a bad decision.