Millersville fire district hosts first in Missouri: mental health training for firefighters

August 29, 2018 | By Mark Bliss

More than 20 volunteer firefighters turned out Saturday for Missouri’s first mental health “first aid” class for first responders, hosted by the Millersville Rural Fire Protection District.

Created by the National Council for Behavioral Health, the class was designed to help first responders identify individuals with mental-health problems, including co-workers, said Lt. Michael Bell of the Millersville department.

He said all but one of the firefighters who attended the class are volunteers with the Millersville department. Staff with the Cape Girardeau-based Community Counseling Center taught the class.

Bell said he hopes other fire departments will take advantage of the training, too.

“I don’t want it to be the last,” he said Tuesday.

Mental-health first aid has been taught in the United States since 2008, but it recently has been tailored to fit the needs of first responders, according to a news release from the department.

Bell said firefighters “run into” mental-health issues when responding to emergencies.

“We see stuff on a weekly basis that most people don’t see,” he said.

Mental first-aid is like any other first aid, he said.

“First aid is designed to initially treat a problem,” Bell said.

Law enforcement officers have received mental-health training, but firefighters typically have not had such training, he said.

Bell said more than 70 percent of the nation’s firefighters are volunteers.

“We have full-time jobs,” he said.

Volunteer firefighters often have to go to their paying jobs only hours after dealing with a fire or other emergency, Bell said.

Mental-health issues affect firefighters, too, he said.

Lt. Cole Welker, training coordinator for the Millersville department, said in the news release “there is an epidemic affecting our ranks.”

Bell said more firefighters die from suicide nationwide than in the line of duty.

According to a national study, 103 firefighters died from suicide in 2017 while 93 died in the line of duty.

Welker, the training coordinator, said in the news release “when training, we focus on fires and EMS calls and not training on mental health emergencies. We now must work to become efficient at treating mental health emergencies as well.”

Millersville fire chief Ray Warner said in the release the mental-health class “will assist us in our efforts in dealing with patient care as well as department members’ individual stress management when needed due to traumatic events.”