Mental health support key for Le Cloquet firefighters, paramedics

Mental health support key for Le Cloquet firefighters, paramedics

CLOQUET – Cloquet Area Fire District Chief Jesse Buhs gave an impassioned speech to the board about the need for ongoing mental health support for emergency services personnel , at a meeting on Wednesday 16 November.

“In the profession (of fire and emergency medical services), we have seen an increase in the number of our responders seeking help for the mental health impacts of what we do,” he said. declared.

Buhs’ statement was prompted by recent serious events to which district personnel were called, as well as a meeting with rural paramedics in Duluth where mental health was a major issue.

He clarified that he felt he had the support of the board, but wanted to put it at the forefront of the minds of board members.

Buhs said responders receive a wide variety of calls, ranging from fatal car crashes to drug overdoses, murders and more. Having to answer all of these calls can have a cumulative effect on the answering machine.

“A lot of people assume you don’t see this stuff in rural communities,” he said. “We still see everything I listed; it’s all from personal experiences.”

First responders face issues of post-traumatic stress as they have to make many calls throughout their careers as well as “compassion fatigue”.

“You are so intimately connected to all these incidents…you have to give so much of yourself to handle these calls that at some point you burn out,” he said.

Buhs compared working in the EMS to someone seeing combat in wartime. Although he said he would not compare the experience, the cumulative effect of trauma and death is equally important.

The district is currently offering deals for staff through its employee assistance program, or even less formal activities like a “tailgate debrief,” which Buhs says is when responders will gather at the back of the fire truck to make a more serious call.

Going forward, Buhs said he has a few ideas on his agenda for 2023, including updating the station’s alert system for calls and waking up responders during their off-duty period, and a vehicle exhaust system for the building so that the fumes can be removed. the vehicle bay.

From now on, Buhs said people at the station have to hear calls for things even outside of their coverage area, which can be taxing listening to cries for help throughout a shift. of work. He said the proposed alert system would limit him to calls that the district needs to respond to.

Buhs said improving the overall mental health of staff will also help recruitment and retention.

“I’ve seen a lot of people change careers or retire early because of it,” he said.

Buhs would also like to strengthen the educational component of mental health, so staff can understand how to help others and even when they should seek additional help for themselves.

Starting to work on improvements is something Buhs said he wants to do soon, before he begins to see the impact of mental health on his staff.

“My goal is to ensure the longevity of our people so that they stay healthy and can retire and enjoy their retirement,” he said.

Council Chair Linda Way thanked Buhs for her comments and asked what the council could do to support district staff.

“That’s the reality of fires and EMS these days,” she said.

Buhs said the best thing the board can do is continue to support his efforts to meet the challenges.

Board member Sheila Lamb praised Buhs for speaking up on the subject, because she knows it’s not easy to discuss.

“It’s been an ongoing issue with a lack of mental health (support). I know paramedics where, 40 years later, a lot of that still haunts them,” she said.

Lamb said failing to address mental health can lead not only to burnout, but also to substance abuse, suicide and domestic violence.

Way added that this was a reality for the department and said the board would seek to support the district in any way possible.

“We support you in this and we support the staff,” she said.

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