Firefighters and paramedics suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other occupational stress-related conditions will soon have a highly specialized behavioral health treatment facility dedicated solely to the needs of their profession.
The first-of-its-kind residential treatment center, developed through the collaboration of Advanced Recovery Systems (ARS), a leader in behavioral healthcare management, and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), is expected to open in January 2017 in Prince George’s County, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.
The new IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery will provide confidential access to diagnosis, peer counseling and treatment, exclusively serving the 302,000 people represented by the IAFF — who work on the frontlines of emergency response, protecting more than 85 percent of the population in communities throughout the United States and Canada.
Recent studies show that responding to traumatic, often graphic, emergencies – from pulling a child from a mangled automobile, to a house fire with multiple victims, to a massive terror attack – have an impact on firefighters and paramedics; these experiences are causing PTSD at rates similar to those found in combat veterans.
“Working on the frontlines of emergency response can be a stressful and challenging job. The men and women we represent are often exposed to life-threatening situations, lack of sleep, and gruesome experiences,” said IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. “As a result, it is estimated that 20 percent of fire fighters have struggled with PTSD, and firefighters and paramedics experience PTSD at twice the rate of the general population. People with PTSD also often develop co-occurring clinical conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.”
“Firefighters and paramedics are subjected to stresses and trauma that can be life-changing, but until recently, mental health issues have largely been in the shadows,” said Schaitberger. “Our collaboration with ARS will provide the support, treatment, and tools they need to recover from PTSD and continue to serve their communities.”
With the help of ARS, the Center of Excellence will be staffed by a highly experienced and specialized team, including behavioral health professionals who understand the fire service culture and the complex needs of firefighters and paramedics seeking recovery from PTSD and co-occurring addictions.
In addition to treatment services, the Center of Excellence will serve to train and educate peer support members on the unique challenges presented in the treatment of PTSD and substance abuse in the firefighter population, with the ultimate goal of developing needed protocols for fire departments to handle these complex mental health issues. The Center will serve as a safe haven for members to talk with other firefighters who have faced or overcome similar challenges.
“We know that fire fighters and paramedics can be exposed to significant trauma in the line of duty, which can lead to PTSD and co-occurring conditions,” said Lewis Gold, MD, Chairman of Advanced Recovery Systems. “With our expertise in addiction and recovery and comprehensive approach to care, ARS will be able to fully recognize and meet the needs of IAFF members, and help them get back to the lives and jobs they love.”
The Center of Excellence sits on a 15-acre campus designed to support firefighters as they seek treatment and recovery. It has 58 beds with a state-of-the-art gym and other features that encourage physical activity, so that members can continue their fitness regimens and be prepared to return to the job. Center staff will also work with members and their families to ensure a successful return to home and work, and will help to identify a support network, develop accountability plans, and provide links with peer programs so that members can continue with their recovery at home.
To learn more about Advanced Recovery Systems, please visit www.advancedrecoverysystems.com. If you would like more information about the IAFF behavioral health resources, go to www.iaff.org/behavioralhealth.