City of Lakewood Firefighters Lead the Region with Peer Support Program for First RespondersAugust 26, 2019
Since 2015, suicides have surpassed line of duty deaths among firefighters across the country. This stark reality combined with a lack of awareness and stigma surrounding mental health challenges among first responders led Lakewood Firefighters Ryan Fairbanks and Ryan Birth to begin exploring how to address this epidemic.
This led to the creation of the Lakewood Fire Peer Support initiative. Modeled after programs such as the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support, North Carolina First Responder Peer Support, and the Florida Firefighter Safety & Health Collaborative, the Lakewood Fire Peer Support initiative provides an upstream approach to a holistic lifestyle aimed at reducing occupational stress and the negative effects it has on firefighters, paramedics, and dispatchers.
The program is interested in improving the health and wellness of first responders. “We started out focusing only on mental health, but as we dove further into to some of the challenges firefighters were facing, we’ve realized that mental health is a significant component, but we need to address full-scope health and wellness,” said Firefighter Ryan Birth. “We are looking out for first responders physical, behavioral, and mental health while keeping their loved ones in mind.”
With the support of the City of Lakewood and the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Lakewood Fire Peer Support team hosted firefighters from Lakewood and throughout Cuyahoga County to provide certified peer support training earlier this summer. Trained peers provide confidential support and act as a bridge to services already provided by the City, such as Employee Assistance Programs, and outside resources accepted by insurance. The Peer Support Team has also developed a clinician network that can be utilized by both the first responders and their spouses.
“Our goal is to build resilient firefighters and provide a support network for the first responder and everyone in their lives,” said Firefighter Ryan Fairbanks. “The peer(s) help to identify what is going on so they can be the bridge to connect their fellow firefighter, paramedic, or dispatcher to the appropriate resources.”
The Lakewood Fire Peer Support team currently consists of 15 active members, 1 retired member, and 3 dispatchers. The goal is to continue to grow the program within the Lakewood Fire Department while reaching out to support other Fire Departments in the area. The peer support training held at Lakewood City Hall earlier this summer included participants from LFD and Lakewood’s dispatchers as well as first responders from Cleveland, Shaker Heights, Bath Township, Bowling Green, Parma, Parma Heights, Lyndhurst, Garfield Heights, and the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office.
Peer support is available for any career, part-time, or volunteer firefighter, EMT, paramedic, or dispatcher to utilize. For general inquiries, the Lakewood Fire Peer Support team can be reached at 833-LFD-PEER or Lfdpeer@gmail.com. For members in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255).