Anchorage Firefighters Form Peer Support Group

The mental and emotional health of fire fighters and first responders has been getting more attention in recent years and a group of Anchorage firefighters have been relying on each other for support, reports (

John Paff, a caption at Station 1 of the Anchorage Fire Department has over 30 years of service combined between the United States Military and the AFD. Paff wants to do more for behavioral health for firefighters due to the high-stress nature of their jobs. “We all have pressures on us, whether it is home or it could be from our work it could or through our finances, through our kids. We all have a lot of pressures put on us, and the firefighters here in the state.”

As part of this initiative, Paff and other members of the Anchorage Fire Department’s Behavioral Health Task Force decided to create the ‘Alaska Fire Fighter Peer Support Network’ to get firefighters to talk to each other.

Officials have been looking at better ways to help firefighters on and off the job for the past few yeas, according to Assistant Fire Chief Erich Scheunemann. “There has been more of a natural push to recognize behavioral health, specifically depression, PTSD and suicide in public safety,” Scheunemann said.

Anchorage firefighters work on average of about 56 hours in a week, not including over time shifts, Scheunemann says. This can make increased work loads at some stations even more stressful. “If you have a situation like spice we’ve been seeing this summer, it’s increasing our overall call volume. That is increasing the stress on the crews. Less down time, and less time to take naps,” Schenemann said.

The initiative is in the process of becoming a non-profit, and aims to have 12 peer supporters in the Anchorage Fire Department by the end of the year.

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