The Alabama Fire College, Alabama will be the first state to include peer support counselling training in its fire recruit school training thanks to funding from the Alabama Department of Mental Health and strong support from the Professional Fire Fighters of Alabama (PFFA).
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) General President Edward Kelly called adding behavioural health and peer support counselling training into the recruit curriculum is ground-breaking work: “Fire fighters in Alabama will be trained to not only recognize the signs and symptoms that someone needs behavioral health assistance, but they will also be equipped to counsel someone who is in crisis. Congratulations to the PFFA, its members, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, and the Alabama Fire College making this possible.”
The statewide peer support program has been in development since the PFFA hosted an IAFF Peer Support Training session in Birmingham in 2018. Hoover Local 4035 member Toby Rigsby and Pelham Local 5049 member Jim Terrell were inspired by the training and with the support of the PFFA began working with the Alabama Fire College on the program’s infrastructure (e.g., centralising dispatch, creating a website with program resources and information).
Rigsby commented: “The funding from the state’s Department of Mental Health has enabled us to develop, organise, and expand the peer support program more efficiently. Now, all fire fighters in the state will have increased access to counsellors who truly understand what it is like to be a fire fighter and the challenges we face.”
To date, more than 120 PFFA members have been trained in peer support. Training all new fire fighters in peer counselling will help maintain the number of counsellors needed to meet the demand for behavioural health services in the fire service.
The curriculum will first be given to peer support providers who already have some training. Those trained in the curriculum will then deliver it to the fire recruits.
PFFA President Dave Harer said they were pleased that the Department of Mental Health and the fire college are working with us to meet this critical need: “With more trained peer support counsellors, the Alabama First Responder Peer Support Program will be better able to provide behavioral health assistance, including help with substance abuse, critical intervention, and referrals.”
The PFFA hopes to soon have a peer support regional director in each of the state’s 10 regions. Those directors will manage a team of counsellors in the region able to respond to behavioural health situations at a moment’s notice.
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