Michigan crisis program addresses first responders mental health

With recent storms that ripped through Mid-Michigan, car crashes, and fatal accidents, first responders face tragedy with almost every call.
Published: Aug. 31, 2023 at 6:40 PM EDT
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DELTA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WILX) - A newly formed program from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Wayne State University is helping first responders cope with on-the-job trauma.

Frontline Strong Together is a program run by first responders, for first responders, that now has its own crisis helpline. Manager Jim Peyton said by calling 1-833-34-STRONG, callers will be connected with crisis intervention-trained, former first responders who understand the struggles they’re going through.

Aside from emergency responders themselves, Peyton also encourages concerned family members to call. He said it’s a completely anonymous resource that gives police, fire, EMTs and dispatchers an outlet for their stress before it escalates.

“A lot of us wait until the house is burning down before we call,” he said. “With us, I want you to call when the house is smoking.”

With recent storms that ripped through Mid-Michigan, car crashes, and fatal accidents, first responders face tragedy with almost every call. Their jobs require them to take care of the public before they take care of themselves, but Delta Township Fire Chief Gregg Ginebaugh, the scenes they witness can leave them struggling.

“We’re on autopilot,” he said. “So when we get done with a call, and everything is put away and cleaned up, that’s when we sit down, you take a breath, and then you start processing. What did I just see?”

Ginebaugh said day-to-day stressors, from administration, to call volume, to witnessing traumatic events, can often cause first responders to develop PTSD, depression or addiction.

The stressors are so great that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports police officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. That’s why Ginebaugh said it’s crucial that people know support is out there.

“And that’s one of the biggest things, is having a support system available to you, whether it’s a team, peer support, or somebody you work with, just to talk to you,” he said. “Talking is huge.”

Ginebaugh said Frontline Strong Together is one of several programs he connects his team members to when they suffer from the side effects of their work. Locally, he’s also an advocate for the Capital Area Peer Response program and the Yellow Rose, a campaign that raises awareness of firefighter suicide.

Ginebaugh and his team also find an outlet for their stress by spending time with their support dog, a Golden Doodle named Walter. Each resource serves as a reminder that they are not alone.

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