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Bend Fire Relies On Peer Support To Reduce Job Stress

BEND, OR -- Bend Fire and Rescue has 25 firefighters trained to help their co-workers deal with stressful or traumatic calls. Battalion Chief James Adams tells KBND News exposure to traumatic incidents builds up over a firefighter's career, "Anything terrible you see on the news, there were firefighters there, most likely. And, they were taking that in." He adds, "Sometimes that call happened that day, sometimes all of a sudden a call from five years ago is bothering them, maybe."

Training firefighters to listen and help others costs time and money, but Adams says it’s a critical part of retaining good employees, "So, there’s a lot of cost to someone leaving the job early because their mental health isn't in a place where they can continue." He says those calls don't stop, "So we have to be able figure out how to take care of ourselves and each other, to get through that career and continue to help the community the best we can."

As KBND News reported last week, Oregon U.S. Rep. Andrea Salinas introduced a bill in Congress to allow existing federal firefighter grants to cover the cost of peer support training. Salinas calls it the Peer Support For Firefighters Act. She says, "It is probably one of the most accessible ways- to trust somebody you actually work with to be able to help you through that traumatic event."

Bend Fire’s peer support team is made up of 25 members, "And they span the different ranks, as well as different shifts." In addition to providing immediate help and ongoing support, the team refers people for more structured help, if needed, "Some of these programs that are graciously provided by a city or maybe even a state or grants, sometimes those can be a little tricky to navigate. And if you’re in a spot where you’re already at a higher level of stress, for whatever reason, that navigation might be even more difficult." And, Adams says, his team also helps teach firefighters and paramedics how to proactively deal with everyday job stress, "What are your coping mechanisms for the calls that you just saw the last 48 hours? Are you going to go for a walk? Exercise maybe before you get home. Maybe the transition between work and home needs to take a little bit longer, so when you go home you can engage the way you’re supposed to as a mother or wife, or father or husband."

Because not every local agency has a peer support program, Adams says his team volunteers to help when a neighboring fire district experiences a traumatic incident. Bend Police has a similar program.

To listen to our full conversation with Bend Fire Battalion Chief James Adams, visit the KBND Podcast Page.

 

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