Prehospital Profiles: When Medics Need Assistance

For volunteers at East Amherst Fire Department, their emotional well being is a priority

For volunteers at East Amherst Fire Department, their emotional well being is an important part of the care they provide their patients. With that thought in mind, the East Amherst Fire Department, which serves the cities of East Amherst and Clarence, New York, implemented the Firefighter Assistance Program in 2006. The program focuses on ensuring its member firefighters are in the best possible condition, both emotionally and physically.

"There are a lot of stressors that come with this job, as well as those outside of what we do," says Mike Morris, EMS coordinator with the department. "We are a 100% volunteer department and we found that some of our members weren't able to get this type of assistance through their employers. In addition to doing everything possible to provide the best service to our community, we also work hard to provide great services to our members."

EMS World recently spoke with Morris about the Firefighter Assistance Program and how it encourages emotional and physical well being of its department members.

What types of services are offered through the Firefighter Assistance Program?

The program provides assistance related to addictions (including drugs, alcohol and gambling); financial counseling; emotional/psychological problems (including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.); and personal relationships (including those related to spouses/significant others and the workplace).

In 2009, the department added a physical fitness aspect to the program when it contracted with an athletic trainer who focuses on the physical well being of the department members. Since its inclusion, a number of members have lost significant amounts of weight and have drastically improved their health.

We offer up to six face-to-face sessions free of charge to our members. If additional sessions are needed, we try to work with insurance companies to obtain coverage.

How is the program implemented?

An outside vendor manages the program for us. This allows us to maintain confidentially, which is very important. In a small town, everyone knows everything about everybody. A lot of these services are related to personal issues, and it's important for us to maintain the integrity of the program. The administrator may know who goes through the program, but they may not know necessarily for what.

Are programs such as this more important now than in years past?

There are so many outside stressors affecting our members today. And we're asking them to do more at the department. Our call volume continues to increase as more people utilize the EMS system. In my district, we have a number of adult residence homes, so we answer a huge number of cardiac arrest calls from our aging residents.

Also, because we're a volunteer department, we have a neighbors-helping-neighbors concept. The good part of that is you get to help your neighbor. The bad part is that you usually know that neighbor. Sometimes when you put a name and face to the person you're helping, it can be more difficult to deal with the situation.

Another example is the aftereffects of catastrophes such as Flight 3407. The commuter airplane crashed in 2009 less than four miles from us. We were on scene within 10 minutes. While there wasn't an emergency medical request for passengers, we knew we were dealing with a catastrophic event and the thought that we might know someone who was on the flight. While we participate in a county-wide program for stress debriefing, some people may be more comfortable with individual counseling rather than talking in groups. That's where our program comes in and provides benefits.

Each year we evaluate its effectiveness, and it's difficult to put a dollar value on it, but we know we are helping people. We know we've had members utilize the program, and we've had more successes than failures. As long as we can continue to provide assistance, we deem the program a success. It's just one more thing we can offer to our members for doing the job they do.

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