The 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:
“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:
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.”
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