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Leadership/Management

Strengthening PTSD Support for Florida’s First Responders

First responders are more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty, and the accumulation of traumas they encounter—sometimes on a daily basis—can naturally lead to distress and, potentially, development of problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But warning signs of PTSD and depression can be nearly impossible to recognize without proper training, and available resources for responders in distress remain limited. Now two organizations have joined forces to battle these issues and provide enhanced support for first responders across Florida.

UCF RESTORES, a leading independent research center devoted to changing the way PTSD is understood, diagnosed, and treated, has partnered with the Florida Firefighters Safety and Health Collaborative (FFSHC) to serve as the collaborative’s committed partner for mental health and wellness. In addition to providing evidence-based research and ongoing institutional expertise, UCF RESTORES will play a crucial role in enhancing one of the collaborative’s anchor initiatives: the peer-support Redline Rescue model.

Redline Rescue

Redline Rescue was designed to take peer support to a new level. Supported by a statewide network of first responders trained to connect peers directly with one another, factoring in rank and level of experience, the FFSHC provides those in need with the necessary support to seek help for anxiety and other distressing symptoms that often accompany exposure to traumatic events. Currently the program leverages a statewide network of trained first responders to connect peers to one another and is manned by volunteers who are available to speak with those in distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If needed, volunteers can connect their peers with clinicians who have experience working with first responders, are trained to know the language and culture, and understand the types of trauma first responders are likely to face on the job.

As the number of first responders across the state continues to grow, so has demand for support since the collaborative’s founding in 2016. Until now operation of Redline Rescue has relied on the manual efforts of volunteers. Now, supported by the years of experience, research, and data on peer-support training programs compiled by UCF RESTORES, the FFSHC is developing a fully automated Web-based version of the Redline Rescue model. Once the portal is live, first responders will have streamlined access to the collaborative’s robust peer-support network with just a few clicks on their computer or mobile device.

FFSHC Mental Wellness Director Dustin Hawkins calls this partnership a “win-win.” Matching effective, empathic peers and culturally competent clinicians with first responders in need has allowed the FFSHC to support members of the “collaborative family” in their darkest hours. Hawkins believes that in bringing together the collaborative’s network of first responders and UCF RESTORES’ unique approach to treatment, the foundation has been laid for his team to make a greater difference than ever.

“We’re proud of our accomplishments, but we know we’ve only scratched the surface,” Hawkins says. “With the help of UCF RESTORES, we’re excited to build out the Redline Rescue program to better serve those in need and ultimately increase lives saved and reduce the number of flags folded over the caskets of our first responders.”

A Leap Forward

The mental health and wellness partnership between the organizations marks a leap forward in offering the most effective evidence-based treatment to Florida first responders. As the partnership progresses, the collaborative will have expanding opportunities to leverage data and utilize algorithms developed by the UCF RESTORES team to further streamline the model, bringing its potential reach and impact to new heights.

The FFSHC is also training mental health clinicians across the state through two-day immersive courses to familiarize them with what life as a first responder looks like, so they’re better prepared to provide culturally competent therapy in time of need. The program has trained about 300 clinicians over the past two years.

As UCF RESTORES continues its mission to help people reclaim control of their lives following trauma, the program’s founder and director, Deborah Beidel, PhD, sees virtually limitless potential in this partnership.

“As we stay focused on our mission of being the first place the nation turns to for education and research on PTSD, we realize the need to align with partners that can connect us to those who are affected,” Beidel says. “Our relationship with the FFSHC serves as an invaluable pipeline to first responders in Florida and beyond, and we are grateful for the opportunity to serve those who devote their lives to serving others.”

To learn more about the services offered by the FFSHC and UCF RESTORES, visit www.floridafirefightersafety.org and www.ucfrestores.org.

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