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Mont. Fire Department Creates First Responder Mental Health Hotline

Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Mont.

The Evergreen Fire Department, along with several other organizations, recently formed a new mental-health call line for local first responders and their immediate family members.

The new line, which became active in early June, offers a variety of interventions, services and supports focused on “the unique challenges and stresses first responders face in the performance of their services to communities,” according to a flyer. First responders and their family members are encouraged to call if they are experiencing depression, sadness, anxiety, painful emotional flashbacks, relationship difficulties, if they are continually thinking about a work incident and/or are self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

Every Flathead County first responder, their spouses and children will have access to a dedicated First Responder Warm Line Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will also have immediate access to a 24-hour line for those experiencing a crisis outside of those operating hours.

The idea for the service emerged a few months ago after Brodie Verworn, Evergreen Fire District board chairman, was asked to find a solution for local Flathead Valley first responders struggling with mental health—a challenge he said has intensified amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was told this wasn’t something that just one local fire department was struggling with, but that many first responders throughout the valley could use a service like this,” said Verworn, who has also been a paramedic and firefighter for the Big Mountain Fire Department for 14 years.

Verworn said he began by reaching out to a group of Montana mental-health professionals via a social media page. He said the group immediately replied with a variety of ideas and possible solutions.

Cedar Creek Integrated Health in Libby messaged Verworn personally and staff soon set to work developing a plan for the crisis line. It’s Cedar Creek mental-health professionals who answer calls to the First Responder Warm Line, according to Verworn.

“Anyone who calls the line will be speaking with an actual health-care professional,” Verworn said. “They’ll know they are in good hands when they call and that these individuals can help them with a variety of challenges they may be experiencing.”

The service has been funded for 90 days by Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation’s First to Goal Fund. The fund launched in early April after a local family, Candy and Eddie DeBartolo, donated $150,000 to support frontline health-care staff and first responders through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When COVID first took off, the DeBartolos really wanted to help get things going for these vital workers. Now over 100 other donors have given to the fund and those donations continue to do a lot of good for the valley,” said Tagen Vine, president of the Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation.

At the end of the 90-day funding stretch, Vine and Verworn said stakeholders will analyze how often the service was utilized and, if it proves to be a valuable resource, they said they will search for the funding necessary to keep the line active.

Flathead County first responders and their families can call the First Responder Warm Line Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 406-850-3836. Those experiencing a mental-health crisis outside of those hours can call 406-756-2968.

The line is dedicated to first responders and their families specifically. But if someone who is not a first responder is experiencing a mental-health crisis, call Western Montana Mental Health Center’s 24-hour crisis intervention line at 406-752-6262 or 406-257-1336.

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