Over the next few weeks, Dallas Fire-Rescue will roll out a new program to better help its members seek treatment for post-traumatic stress, substance abuse and work related mental health issues.
DFR Chief David Coatney said work on the program began last year, with representatives from all three fire associations working with the department to develop the program. Coatney said the suicide of one of their members in 2017 was among the driving forces behind the program’s creation.
“We’ve seen a number of struggles related to PTSD, some substance abuse issues in the organization and a lot of stressors,” Chief Coatney said.
Posters with a phone number for a newly created 24-hour hotline along with a hyperlink and QR code linking to a website will be placed in all DFR firehouses. No matter the method chosen, firefighters and paramedics will be able to quickly access information on treatment options for any mental health issue they might have.
“All of these options insure anonymity for the person who is calling in, which is very important for the audience we are speaking to,” Coatney said.
In previous years, mental health treatment for DFR member was mostly facilitated through the city of Dallas’ employee assistance program or ‘EAP’. DFR members will still have access to those resources but the hope is the new program will do a better job breaking through the stigma that Coatney said still exists when it comes to mental health treatment among first responders, especially for older generations.
“Because of those different generations you had the group that would just suck it up and move forward and if you came forward and said that call really bothered me you’d get a response like ‘get over it kid’ but things have changed,” Coatney said.
Coatney said the department has so far contracted with over a half-dozen local mental health institutions to provide everything from counseling to substance abuse treatment. The department will also soon begin “resiliency” training for current members of the department. The training has been available for recent cadet classes but had not previously been offered to current members. The training prepares first responders for the emotional trauma they will encounter on the job.
“We don’t ever expect to stop working on this (program), we want to constantly be tweaking and improving this to address the needs of our members,” Coatney said.