When neighbors and a passerby rescued two residents from a burning home in June, firefighters with Central County Fire & Rescue (CCFR) recognized that the experience had the potential to leave these civilian heroes scarred and possibly suffering from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress (PTS). In the days following the fire, CCFR firefighters brainstormed how to help these residents recognize potential PTS and begin the healing process, and the Community Crisis Assistance Program (CCAP) was born.
In partnership with CCFR Community Outreach and local mental health care professionals, the CCAP is a first-of-its-kind mental health initiative that provides free counseling services with licensed professional counselors who are trained in helping people navigate the aftermath of physical and mental trauma.
The program places CCFR on the front lines in the battle against PTSD and mental health awareness and raises the bar of how local first responders support their communities through their outreach efforts.
“CCFR Community Outreach has been dedicated to supporting our community after the fire in many ways for over 20 years already, and this new initiative is an extension of our commitment to working together to support our community in whatever way we can,” says CCFR Deputy Chief and Public Information Officer Jason Meinershagen.
PTSD has been known by many names, including “shell shock” and “combat fatigue,” but it does not just happen to combat veterans. According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD can occur in anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or a violent personal assault. PTSD affects approximately 3.5% of adults in the U.S., and studies have found that as many as 37% of firefighters meet the criteria for a current diagnosis of PTSD.
“The human mind is not meant to see and experience many of the things that we do, and it can be challenging to process those images and experiences in a positive and healthy way,” Meinershagen says. “In the firehouse, we have formal systems in place to help ourselves process those experiences, whether that be Critical Incident Stress Debriefings or Employee Assistance Programs.
“Many times, the most helpful method of processing those experiences is when we’re around the kitchen table talking about the call with our firehouse family who share similar experiences. Knowing that those healthy avenues to process traumatic experiences may not be readily accessible by the public, we want to support the members of our community who experience a traumatic event in the course of serving their neighbors.”
CCFR Community Outreach, a 501(c)3 nonprofit program funded through donations, provides assistance to families in need, conducts community education and outreach efforts, and supports local community organizations. Every CCFR employee has the ability to activate the CCAP in the aftermath of an emergency incident. Training is underway to ensure CCFR Community Outreach volunteers know how to identify situations that could cause PTS, how to recognize the signs of PTSD and how to refer a resident for assistance.
“We’re honored to serve this great community, and we want to give back to our amazing residents and support them in their times of need. Since the program launched on June 27, we’ve already extended the offer of help to six local residents who voluntarily stepped into a traumatic event to help their neighbors,” says CCFR Captain David Maupin, who serves as the chairman of CCFR Community Outreach. “Their acts of courage and valor in the face of adversity are nothing short of extraordinary and heroic. The least we can do is be there for them after the incident and provide support as they navigate the mental effects in the aftermath of their experience. This new program uniquely positions CCFR Community Outreach to do just that.”