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Spring 2020 Symposium Speakers and Schedule

Meet Your ILFFPS 2020 Symposium Speakers

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Cpt. A. Aaron Back

Captain A. Aaron Back

North Carolina State Highway Patrol (1993 – present). Director Technical Services Unit / VIPER, Patrol Headquarters, Raleigh.

State Coordinator – Members Assistance Team (SHP Peer Team). Over 200 individual or group crisis interventions and Post Critical Incident Seminars.  

State Coordinator – SHP Chaplaincy Program

Founder – North Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program (NCLEAP), Non-profit that provides Post Critical Incident Seminars and CISM Training in NC.  Serves as a Peer for First Responders with South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Missouri, Virginia and West Virginia.

Certified General and Specialized Instructor for the State of North Carolina as well as a Leadership Instructor for the Highway Patrol’s Center for Leadership Development.  Certified ICISF Instructor.

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Alison & Dane Fienning

Alison & Dane Fienning 

This eager and passionate couple is focused on smashing the first responder mental health stigma. Alison is a LISW-S with a specialty in trauma/PTSD, and a former K9 SAR member. Alison also runs a successful private practice and online advising & consultation business that serves first responders and their families. Dane has 16 years of experience as a firefighter & paramedic. He has received several awards, including the 2017 City of Norwood Firefighter of the Year.  

They became stuck and were struggling after a friend and mentor died by suicide in 2017. They became devoted to helping themselves out of the dark ashes through their unique backgrounds. They became IAFF-certified peer supporters and created the online community for first responders and their spouses called Triumph Over Trauma. 

Alison or Dane can be reached by email at, or visit Alison is available for private advising or consultations & can be reached at 513-520-2532.  

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Annette Zapp

Annette Zapp, CSCS 

A 15-year veteran of the fire service, Zapp holds the rank of Lieutenant on a busy suburban Chicago engine company and has over 25 years’ experience in fitness coaching and training.  She owns and operates FireSQFitness (pronounced Fire Rescue Fitness), a coaching business dedicated to the physical and mental health and wellness of first responders.  She is honored to have the opportunity to help Firefighters live their best lives. 

Holding a master’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of South Dakota School of Medicine, she is also credentialed as a CSCS, TSAC-Facilitator, Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach, and an CISSN through the International Society of Sports Nutrition.  Her proudest career accolade was being selected as a member of the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team where she counsels and supports her fellow firefighters.  Zapp has recently accepted a position teaching courses for the University of Denver in their graduate program for Sport Coaching.

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Brian Knowler

Brian Knowler

Brian is a veteran police officer, retired lawyer, speaker, and author involved in the justice system since 1994. In 2004 he was the lead investigator in a motor vehicle crash involving the death of a close friend, causing his life to spiral until he was finally diagnosed with, and began therapy for, PTSD in 2012. 

Brian has published two books about his experiences with trauma and leadership: ‘On the Other Side of Broken – One Cop’s Battle With the Demons of PTSD’, 2016, and ‘Career Suicide is Overrated’, 2018. 

Brian speaks and consults for media outlets on issues surrounding trauma, leadership, and public safety across North America, created the CAPITAL L Leadership training program, and hosts a weekly Facebook show on leadership and mental health. 

Brian is a certified leadership coach and a member of the International Institute for Mental Health Leadership. Brian’s CAPITAL L Leadership program received the 2019 Corporate Livewire Award for Excellence in Mental Health Support.  

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Dr. Brittany Miskoweic

Dr. Brittany Miskowiec

Dr. Miskowiec has worked as a licensed independent clinical social worker and suicidologist for over a decade. 

She has extensive experience working with law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, and military personnel. In her work with each of these populations and settings, Dr. Miskowiec has focused on suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. 

She has a private practice where she sees emergency responders and military personnel individually and provides consultation and education to the above populations. Dr. Miskowiec is also on the Board of Directors for the Minnesota Center of Suicidology and teaches social work classes at two universities. 

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Charles G. Allen, Ph.D

Dr. Chuck has been in the mental health field since 1972. He retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2006, where he served as the Director of the Chronic Pain Clinic and Director of the PTSD Clinical Team. He serves on the Board of Advisors for Fire Service Psychology Association.

In 2018 at the 1st Annual Conference, he presented on “Developing Effective Performance Improvement Plans”. In 2019 at the 2nd Annual Conference, he presented on “Conflict and Anger Management in the Fire Station”. Also, in 2019, he presented at the Western Pacific Islands Association of Fire Chiefs in Guam on “Demystifying Psychology in the Fire Service”.

He started with South Metro Fire Rescue where he taught in their Officer’s Academy, was a member of the Peer Support Team and is currently an EAP consultant to Firefighters. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Denver. Visit:

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Dr. Chris Caulikins

Chris Caulkins, EdD, MPH, MA, NRP

Dr. Chris Caulkins is the executive director of the Minnesota Center of Suicidology and has researched, presented, and published on suicide at a state, national, and international level.  Dr. Caulkins is a practicing paramedic for the City of Woodbury and is faculty of EMS and health sciences at Century College. Dr. Caulkins became a suicidologist after the suicide death of his wife, and his resolve strengthened after the suicide death of his brother and multiple public safety colleagues. Dr. Caulkins has experienced, first-hand, the sting of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicidal ideation. For over 13 years, Dr. Caulkins has run a peer support group for those bereaved by suicide.  Dr. Caulkins sits on subcommittees of the Minnesota Suicide Prevention Program and the National Action Alliance on Suicide Prevention. Dr. Caulkins is also a member of the National Alliance on Suicide Prevention and co-chairs the Lived-Experience Special Interest Group of the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

Chris Fields

Chris Fields

Chris Fields is a former member of the Oklahoma City Fire Department, Chris joined the fire department July 12, 1985 promoting through the ranks and retiring as a Major March 1, 2017. Chris was captured in a photo that became an iconic symbol of the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 when he was cradling the body of 1yr old Baylee Almon.

Chris now travels to speak to other 1st responders, he discusses the brutal realities of a life spent responding to citizens in their darkest hours. Chris tells the story of his life, his 31yrs of public service, and how that day in 1995 all combined to take a toll on his life and his family, he suffered in silence for many years. Now he shares how he took control and his journey out of the suffering in hopes of helping others avoid the failure, the pitfalls, and to reach out. 

Chris Marella

Chris Marella FF/PM, CPT, CFSC

A firefighter paramedic since 2003, Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Functional Strength Coach, and Founder of 4th Shift Fitness.  Chris has coached adult clients, youth athletes and tactical athletes since 2012 and is the Head of Operations for his departments Health and Wellness Committee.  From playing junior hockey to being a member of the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge Grand National Championship Team, Chris has a well-rounded base in training and also coaching for physical preparedness and performance.  

4th Shift Fitness is a company dedicated to reducing the occurrence and severity of firefighter injuries and their associated costs.  This is done through on-site seminars, workshops, and training sessions.  The reduction of injuries is a personal matter for Chris as he has been injured on the fire scene as well as witnessed several of his co-workers be placed on disability pensions due to catastrophic injuries.   

Chuck Wehrli

Chuck Wehrli, Captain

Captain Chuck Wehrli is a 4th generation Naperville Firefighter . He started his career as a volunteer from 1971 to 1977 were he began his fulltime career till retirement in 2006. He teaches for the National Fire Academy and Romeoville Fire Academy. He has been involved in fire investigation, Training, and technical rescue and has sat on state and national committees.  He was a member of FEMA Urban Search & Rescue MOTF-1 as a Safety Officer and deployed to Ground Zero on September 11,2001 for 10 days. He is a stage 4 cancer survivor and is the Illinois State Director for the National Firefighter Cancer Support Network. 

He can be reached by email:

Dr. Debra Lindh

Dr. Deb Lindh, ED.D

Dr. Deb Lindh (Dr. Deb) is a PTSD Survivor-Warrior, Amazon Best Selling Author, Award-Winning Scholar Practitioner, and founder of the global Twitter Chat #PTSDandBeyond and the podcast PTSD and Beyond which were both launched to provide advocacy, support, and resources as well as hope, inspiration, education, and empowerment to everyone affected by and with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Dr. Deb’s contributions to Post-Traumatic Stress Recovery stems from sharing her story, experiences, and medication-free recovery with surviving narcissistic child abuse.

“If there’s a solution, I’ll find it and if not, I’ll build one,” Dr. Deb Lindh 

While earning her doctorate, Dr. Deb focused her studies and committed to helping herself overcome the many symptoms of PTSD – all without medication; using herself as the guinea pig and experiment all the while acting as the researcher, scientist, innovator, and client. The result is Dr. Deb created evidence-based interventions, practical techniques, and a company, Mindful Effect, where she teaches these techniques and interventions for people to develop skills and be self-reliant in managing PTSD.

Dr. Deb has been inspiring global audiences for over twenty years on innovation, success, stress management, PTSD, and mindfulness. Dr. Deb has received many awards and is globally recognized for her pioneering contributions from organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, PsychCentral’s Top 21 to Follow on Twitter, University of Arizona School ofMedicine, American Psychological Association, and Working Mother Media.

She has appeared on The Brian Tracy Show, as well on NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX news.Dr. Deb earned a doctorate in Organization Development from the University of St. Thomas(Minnesota) and resides in the Twin Cities with her children and their rescue dog where she enjoys cooking, Major League Baseball, and collecting vintage non-fiction books

Joel Brier

Joel Brier

Joel began his career as a first responder in 1983 at Military Park Fire District in Palm Beach County Florida which was included in the consolidation of fire districts that are now known as Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. In 1985 he was elected to the position of District Vice President and later Executive Vice President of the Professional Firefighters Paramedics of Palm Beach County.

While at PBCFR he began to realize that there was a need to assist coworkers in areas of mental health, substance and alcohol and other wellness related issues. Teaming up with His then department EAP Coordinator they formed a relationship in the management of these issues. Joel continued successfully to function as both a member advocate roll and a behavioral health roll achieving multiple credentials in addiction, peer support, and behavioral heath and in 2018 became the organizations first behavioral health officer.

Joel now serves assisting members with treatment options, recommendations, insurance problems,  and educational opportunities  for the International association of firefighters in the Florida region. His office is located in West Palm Beach. 

Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders is a firefighter/EMT with Sioux Falls Fire Rescue in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  He serves as a member of SFFR’s Peer Support and Chaplain’s Teams.  

Jon is the host of The Fire Inside Podcast, a weekly show dedicated to the mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of the first responder community.  Jon also serves as the Lead Pastor of The RESCUE Church, a non-denominational church with multiple locations in rural communities in South Dakota, Illinois, and Jamaica.  He has been married to his wife Jessica for 23 years.  

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Kasey Franco

Kasey Franco, MA

Kasey Franco oversees and executes mental health training with law enforcement, corporations, faith and community- based organizations, and other entities.

Kasey joined NAMI in February of 2017. She earned a Master of Arts degree specializing in Forensic Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and Psychology from Northern Arizona University.

Kasey has experience working with individuals who have experienced trauma and mental illness in the criminal justice system, residential settings, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, outpatient centers, and community mental health.

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Dr. Kristy McKinness

Dr. Kristy McKiness Ed.D, LCPC, ACS

Dr. Kristy McKiness Ed.D, LCPC, ACS is the founder of KM Institute LLC, and has been in the helping profession since 2001. She completed her doctorate degree in Counseling and Higher Education at Northern Illinois University. Dr. McKiness has rendered services in settings including jail, emergency room, outpatient, residential, and schools.  

Dr. McKiness is dedicated to serving first responders, and completed her doctoral dissertation on police officers perspectives of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. Dr. McKiness has worked with first responders since 2001 through collaboration with CACI and forensic interviewing, providing professional trainings, rendering mental health and substance abuse services to responders and their families, and training other clinicians to work with first responders. She serves as the Clinical Director for the Illinois Firefighter Peer Support Team, and serves as the Board Secretary. She is also a NEMRT certified trainer for CIT trainings. She holds certifications the areas of sexual assault and domestic violence, is a certified divorce mediator and forensic interviewer, and has a certification as an Approved Clinical Supervisor. 

With regard to her clinical style, Dr. McKiness enjoys working with her clients to reach their personal goals while enhancing their emotional wellness. She recognizes change to be a positive part of growth, progress, and opportunities.  Dr. McKiness highly enjoys working with adolescents, adults, couples, and families. 

Dr. McKiness is also passionate about teaching counselors-in-training, and is an adjunct faculty member in the Northen Illinois University graduate counseling program. She also enjoys providing professional presentations, and has presented at state and national level conferences on a variety of topics including adolescent risk and threat assessment, trauma, and firefighter mental health wellness. 

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Dr. Marc Kruse

Marc Kruse, Ph.D

Dr. Marc Kruse, is the Vice President of Research and Development for Front Line Behavioral Health, a company dedicated to providing state of the art behavioral health assessments, education, and feedback for firefighters and other trauma-exposed populations.

He is a licensed clinical psychologist who earned his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin and completed his clinical internship at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown Medical School and the Providence, Rhode Island Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Since 2011, Marc has served as the Staff Psychologist for the Austin Fire Department and Austin-Travis County EMS. Dr. Kruse has more than a decade of direct clinical and research experience working with firefighters, EMS providers, and military veterans focused on the assessment and treatment of the behavioral health difficulties most commonly experienced by first responders including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, sleep, and substance use disorders. 

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Wendy Lund

Wendy Lund

Wendy Lund is the CEO/Founder of Wellth Management Inc, an organization devoted to building wellness, psychological safety and resiliency proactively using evidence-based theory and interventions. 

Her recent MSc in Mindfulness Studies and research investigating the experience of trauma in 1st responders built the foundation for Wellth Management’s flagship program offering called ‘Reach for Resiliency’ or R4R.  As faculty lead in the sciences for over 32 years in nursing and paramedicine, Wendy understands the biology and psychology of ease and dis-ease.  

She now shares her wealth of knowledge with vulnerable sectors groups and corporations to help others understand how to engage with trauma, tragedy and suffering more skillfully.  Wendy’s tweet from several years ago sums up her passion and mission in moving our attention towards the wellbeing of 1st responders; 

“When you teach a 1st responder how to manage a difficult airway, you save patient lives, when you teach them how to handle a difficult emotion, you save theirs.” @WLund100

Symposium Schedule

Thursday, February 20th

7:30 am Check-in & Breakfast

8:30 am Welcome Address

9:15 am Morning Breakouts

  • Aaron Beck: First Responders and Family
  • Brian Knowler: Self Care / Leadership in Mental Health
  • Wendy Lund: Work with Heart | how compassion & self compassion support your wellbeing
  • Chuck Wehrli: Cancer

11:00 am Morning Breakouts

  • Chris Fields: Oklahoma City Complex PTS
  • Allison Fienning: Spouse 
  • Dr. Marc Kruse: Behavior Health Program
  • Dr. McKiness & Jerry Marzullo: Legal issues

12:30 pm Lunch

1:30 pm Panel discussion

2:45 pm Afternoon Breakouts

  • Joel Brier: Addictions
  • Kasey Franco: Compassion Fatigue
  • Charles Allen: Anger 
  • Jon Sanders: Faith
  • Zapp & Marella: Fitness

*6:00 – 8:00 pm Optional ‘Meet-and-Eat’ Dinner with Cash Bar
*Tickets for sale when Registering

Friday, February 21st

7:30 am Breakfast

8:30 am

9:15 am Morning Breakouts

  • Aaron Beck: First Responders and Family
  • Brian Knowler: Self Care / Leadership in Mental Health
  • Wendy Lund: Work with Heart | how compassion & self compassion support your wellbeing
  • Dr. Deb Lindh: Mindfulness

11:00 am Morning Breakouts

  • Chris Fields: Oklahoma City Complex PTS
  • Chris Caulkins & Brittany Miskowiec: Suicide Among Firefighters 
  • Dr. Marc Kruse: Behavior Health Program
  • Jon Sanders: Faith

12:30 pm Lunch

1:30 pm Afternoon Keynote Wendy Lund:
Growing Gratitude in Tragic Dirt

2:45 pm Afternoon Breakouts

  • Joel Brier: Addictions
  • Dr. McKiness: Trauma: Signs, symptoms, resources, and Resilience
  • Charles Allen: Anger 
  • Zapp & Marella: Fitness

Register Online Today!

Our Vision

"Illinois Firefighter Peer Support seeks to contribute and provide ongoing emotional wellness resources that are readily needed in the fire service and for emergency responders." Learn More...