MILLERSVILLE, MO (KFVS) - The volunteer firefighters with the Millersville Fire Department are the first fire department in Missouri to be trained through the Fire/EMS Mental Health First Aid program.
Fourteen volunteer firefighters along with one firefighter from the East County Fire Department took the MHFA training this past weekend to be more prepared in helping other firefighters and residents during or after a crisis.
Michael Bell, Millersville Lt. Medical Officer, said its essential to be prepared as much they can for any scenario they come across as they are the first on scene in a variety of emergency calls.
"A resident in the district dials 911, we are the initial responders. There is no 912," Bell said. "So we are expected to bring the help and the resources to that individual as quick as we can and as professional as we can. Taking this training has made us more of a complete fire department."
Community Counseling Center Co-Occurring Specialist and AFSP Eastern Mo chapter board member Heather Williams trained the Millersville Firefighters and EMS personnel in an eight hour MHFA program this past weekend.
"What mental health first aid does is give an overview of different mental health concerns, different mental health symptons and signs of mental health," Williams explained. "It allows individuals leave with an action plan. To know how to help individuals who might be experiencing a mental health crisis or mental health symptoms."
Williams explained that firefighters and EMS see and experience a lot of different things that the general public doesn’t see on a day-to-day basis. She said its why there was a special curriculum designed just for firefighters and EMS that was added in April of 2018 with the MHFA program.
"This will not only help their communities better but also to help one another in facing some of those difficulties," Williams said.
Mental health is something that has already affected Millersville FD Lieutenant and Training Officer Cole Welker for years after an incident he was called to. Welker performed CPR on a child who drowned one dark day years ago. Afterwards, that moment has stuck with Welker since as he said it has been hard to deal with.
"We weren't able to save him and that kind of hit home a little bit at first," Welker said. "It's been many years. I have talked to people over the years but at first, and being new to it too, I didn't know who I could talk to or to turn to."
Williams said her husband recently wanted to become a firefighter and did so not long ago. While she was excited for him, she also feared that he might not be prepared on certain things he would see on calls that might stick with him. She said she is very aware of the suicide risks and health concerns for firefighters after dealing with a mental health crisis.
"In 2017, 103 firefighters died by suicide while only 93 died in the line of duty," Williams said stating a statistic on mental health site. "So this is something that fire and EMS really need more education and more support on how to deal with some of those mental health crisis."
This training provides relief for Welker as even some family members are able to talk with them as well after the training program.
“If we have a bad instance, if something happens and we need somebody to talk to, we don’t have anybody really around here we can,” Welker said. “But now we have trained people and we can talk to each other. Brothers, sisters and even spouses. A couple spouses took it so we got them to talk to if we need to.”
Bell said overall he feels his department is more prepared and has an action plan to help everyone in their area now and encourages other departments to look into the training program as well.
"So it's important to me to get something in house in the fire department and teach our firefighters and officers the skills we need to not only take care of their brothers and the fire department but to actually bring it out to the community to better serve our citizens."
If you would like more information on the MHFA program, you can find their website here or call Rick Strait at the Community Counseling Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo. at (573) 334-1100.