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In the Heat of the Moment, How Do You Maintain Balance?

The fire service is a dynamic entity where you find that no two days are exactly alike and can be seemingly unpredictable.  As members, we are called upon at a moment’s notice to respond to situations that can place our lives in jeopardy: structure fires, auto accidents, confined space and hazmat incidents, EMS calls, water rescues, and so on.  Anyone reading this post would make the argument that our profession contributes to a heightened stress response, which is made more complex by the fact that we are asked to live with the same group for extended periods of time (sometimes we get along . . . sometimes we don’t).  Given all this, how do you maintain balance?

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Observations From the Field

Peer-2BSupport-2BLogoThe Peer Reporter is an educational forum dedicated to giving a voice to behavioral health.  One of the ways in which we as team members can meet this goal is to report back on our personal observations from the field.  Adding a human dimension to the pages of this blog is one of the best ways I know to spread the message of the ILFFPS.
Back in early April of this year, I wrote an entry in my own blog where I shared both a personal experience with the Champaign class, and my interpretation of what it means to be a peer supporter.  Matt posted (with my permission) this story to the original form of the ILFFPS blog.  In the months that have passed, our team has grown by two more graduating classes and another is on the way.  We have also expanded our social media presence to include a Twitter account (something suggested by the Champaign class).  We are even receiving requests from other countries who want to learn more about our organization.

Given all these recent events, I am going to re-share with you my observations from the field as was written on April 5th, 2015.  By breathing emotional life into our body of work, the more we will resonate with those who seek our services.  As always, I encourage you as a team member to send me what’s on your mind, because SHARING = HEALING.  I now present you with:

Peer Supporters are the Ambassadors to Behavioral Health

“Last week, the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team (under the guidance of Sarah Gura and Matt Olson) held its third training program at the Illinois Fire Service Institute in Champaign. As a team member, I attended the first day of class and had the honor and privilege of sharing my story with the new group of applicants, and they with me.  Listening to a fellow firefighter’s story has always had a profound effect on me and I learn something different, or confirm what I already knew, each time I go through this experience.  Before I share my observations I want to tell you a little more about our team.
As Program Director Matt Olson put it: “The ILFFPS was the brainchild of Sarah Gura” (a licensed professional clinical counselor) who recognized a population in the State of Illinois that was underserved in the realm of behavioral health, that being firefighters and their families.  Through the collaborative efforts of Sarah, Matt, and a core group of dedicated firefighters who were passionate about behavioral health, the ILFFPS was born.  The inaugural training was held in April of 2014, and as of this writing the third group of applicants are now team members.  This organization is a work in progress, but continues to grow in strength with each passing day.
The following Mission Statement and definition of Peer Support are taken directly from our website:

Mission Statement

“To serve the fire service family by providing trained peer supporters who can give confidential, appropriate, and supportive assistance” (ILFFPS, 2015).

Peer Support Defined

“For the intents and purposes of firefighter peer support teams, peer support is defined as a service provided by an individual or group of trained firefighters who respond to firefighters in need- whether that need be a personal or professional concern.  Peer support teams will serve as a helping resource for fire service employees and their families.
Peer support also seeks to help fire service personnel reduce stress and diminish the negative emotional effects of this occupation.  Peer support specifically acknowledges the need to address mental/behavioral health needs for fire service employees and their families.  Our goal is to increase acceptance of this need through the practice of peer support” (ILFFPS, 2015).
These statements define both the team and its mission.  If you would like more information about us please visit: http://ilffps.wpengine.com/index.html.  That being said, peer support has a much deeper meaning to me, something I confirmed this past Monday.

As each story was laid out on the table (so to speak), I could feel the angst as well as see the tears flow from many of my brother and sister firefighters.  Most of the personal pain was the result of bearing witness to the horrors that our profession often heaps upon us.  However, many related about hardships and traumas that were inflicted upon them long before they entered the fire service (personal history can have a direct bearing on how one will respond to or act out upon, should a future incident of a similar nature strike an emotional cord). Coupled together, it is no wonder why so many of us suffer from behavioral health issues.  As I drove home that day, I reflected on my experience and came to a sudden realization:

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Those of us that make up the team are bound by a common thread that the concept of peer support, or behavioral health for that matter, was not discussed in the firehouse when we began our careers. I can only speak for myself in saying that I wished it had existed when I was a rookie, as it would have saved me a whole lot of emotional and physical turmoil.  If I were a betting man (and I am not), I think most of my fellow team members would echo my sentiments.

We all learned the hard way, and that is okay.  For it is in these trials and tribulations that we will take our lessons learned and answer the call for help with a sense of confidence and compassion that knows no bounds.  It is our fundamental duty as a member of the human race to leave the world a little better off than we found it, and as peer supporters I believe we will do just that.  It is for these reasons my friends why I say peer supporters are the ambassadors to behavioral health. Not only for the fire service, but for all humankind as well.”

References
Home page of the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team.  Retrieved from http://ilffps.wpengine.com/index.htmlon April 4th, 2015.
Grutzius, T. (2015, April 5).  Peer Supporters are the Ambassadors to Behavioral Health.  Message posted to Self Care and Fitness Education blog: http://abalancedlifeselfcare.blogspot.com/2015/04/peer-supporters-are-ambassadors-to.html

The More You Tell . . . The Easier It Becomes

Healthy-2Bbody-2Band-2Bmind-300x198Around this time last year I was in the beginning stages of healing from the wounds of post-traumatic stress that had haunted me for over 16 years.  My cry for help finally came during the second day of the inaugural Illinois Firefighter Peer Support training held in Bolingbrook in April of 2014.  On that day I made a phone call to initiate counseling with one of the best FPS therapists I know, and the rest is a living history.  Through a combination of psychotherapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, yoga, nutrition response testing, massage therapy, and reiki (Cody and I will touch on these topics as part of the ILFFPS Holistic Wellness Initiative) I have become a more centered and peaceful human being. Along the way I discovered that talking can be some of the best medicine.

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Dropping the D is Awesome . . . What’s Next?

The following referenced article was submitted by ILFFPS member Danielle Fary of Homer Township FPD which became the subject matter for this current posting.  Thanks, Dee.
Peer-2BSupport-2BLogo In the recent online article Dropping the ‘D’ in PTSD is becoming the norm in Washington (2015, June 30), Washington Post columnist Colby Itkowitz related how politicians and veteran’s advocates are changing terminology when referring to post-traumatic stress disorder, in the hope of reducing the stigma attached to this social anxiety disorder.  Itkowitz noted that during a recent speaking engagement, former President George W. Bush said that from now on he would drop the word disorder and only refer to PTSD as “Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS)”.  Likewise, when President Obama hosted a White House gathering for veterans, he never used the word disorder.  Congress also seems to be taking up this new cause.

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Giving a Voice to Behavioral Health

Peer-2BSupport-2BLogoGreetings to whom this may present,
Welcome to the Peer Reporter, a space dedicated to where you will find information on things concerning the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team (ILFFPS) and more.  My name is Tim Grutzius, one of the Peer Coordinators for the team, and I have the privilege of maintaining this conduit of information.  However, this is a team blog and all are welcome to submit anything, on any topic, related to our mission of providing both peer support and behavioral health education.  To get this conversation started, here is a list of ideas to which you may feel free to add to:

·         Reports from the field: Personal accounts of team members and Firefighter Psychological Support (FPS) therapists on what it was like to make a difference in a firefighter or paramedic’s life (thoughts, feelings, etc.).
·         Profiles and Interviews: Interviews of team members and FPS therapists that will provide readers added depth of choice and best possible match to suit their needs.
·         General Information: On fundraisers, workshops, training opportunities, etc.
·         Illinois Holistic Wellness Initiative: This initiative is going to provide readers with the mind-body-spirit basics of self-care, as outlined in the 3rd Edition of the IAFF-IAFC Wellness Fitness Initiative.  Our goal is to breathe life into this all important document that was first published in 1997.
·         Miscellaneous info:  Any other information (websites, blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, etc.) you wish to share with readers that you feel will help them life a more balanced existence.

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If you are willing to contribute to this project, send all submissions to timgrutzius@gmail.com.  We are living in the here and now of something much greater than ourselves: giving a voice to behavioral health in the fire service.  Until next time-
Take care, be well, and stay safe
Tim