All Clear - A Firefighter Health & Wellness Podcast

Leave Some Tracks - With Guest Gerald Mishoe

August 04, 2023 Travis McGaha / Eric Stephenson Season 1 Episode 7
Leave Some Tracks - With Guest Gerald Mishoe
All Clear - A Firefighter Health & Wellness Podcast
More Info
All Clear - A Firefighter Health & Wellness Podcast
Leave Some Tracks - With Guest Gerald Mishoe
Aug 04, 2023 Season 1 Episode 7
Travis McGaha / Eric Stephenson

Have you ever wondered about the mental health challenges faced by our bravest, the firefighters, and how they cope? Join us as we sit down with Gerald Mishoe, the Executive Director of the Low Country Firefighter Support Team in South Carolina. Gerald's background as the son of a firefighter and his eventual career in the fire department uniquely positions him to lead this vital support program. From the tragic Charleston 9 incident to the evolution and expansion of mental health support for first responders, Gerald takes us through an inspiring journey that underscores the importance of empathy, understanding, and support in this high-stress profession.

Dive deep into the world of first responders and their mental health as Gerald gives us a firsthand view of the changes that have occurred over the years. He talks about the $15,000 benefit plan available for first responders, the success stories born out of it, and how this reflects the changing attitudes towards mental health in the fire service. The conversation helps us understand that seeking help is not a sign of weakness but the first step towards healing and resilience. Crucially, it serves as a stark reminder of the progress made and the miles yet to go in eradicating the stigma associated with mental health, especially among our heroes in uniform.

Finally, we explore the power of peer support in the firefighting community, a theme close to Gerald's heart. Whether it's connecting a colleague to a rehabilitation program or showing up for a friend diagnosed with terminal cancer, the importance of being there for one another cannot be overstated. Gerald's stories serve as poignant reminders of the essential role relationships play in the fire service. Regardless of whether you're a first responder or not, there's a wealth of wisdom in this conversation about the transformative power of empathy and understanding. Tune in, and let's learn together, for in supporting one another, we build a stronger, more resilient community.

Gerald Mishoe Bio:
Gerald Mishoe has been involved in the Fire Service since 1967 as a firefighter, paramedic, company officer, and a chief officer. He was inducted into the South Carolina State Firefighter Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2007, he led the development of a counseling unit for the Charleston Fire Department after the tragic deaths of nine Charleston firefighters in the Sofa Super Store Fire. 

In 2012, he was one of the founders of the South Carolina Firefighter Assistance and Support Team that provides behavioral health care for emergency services personnel across the state. In 2013, the Charleston Firefighter Support Team transitioned to a non-profit organization, the Lowcountry Firefighter Support Team, that now serves twenty-three counties in the State with a comprehensive peer and clinical based program.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Have you ever wondered about the mental health challenges faced by our bravest, the firefighters, and how they cope? Join us as we sit down with Gerald Mishoe, the Executive Director of the Low Country Firefighter Support Team in South Carolina. Gerald's background as the son of a firefighter and his eventual career in the fire department uniquely positions him to lead this vital support program. From the tragic Charleston 9 incident to the evolution and expansion of mental health support for first responders, Gerald takes us through an inspiring journey that underscores the importance of empathy, understanding, and support in this high-stress profession.

Dive deep into the world of first responders and their mental health as Gerald gives us a firsthand view of the changes that have occurred over the years. He talks about the $15,000 benefit plan available for first responders, the success stories born out of it, and how this reflects the changing attitudes towards mental health in the fire service. The conversation helps us understand that seeking help is not a sign of weakness but the first step towards healing and resilience. Crucially, it serves as a stark reminder of the progress made and the miles yet to go in eradicating the stigma associated with mental health, especially among our heroes in uniform.

Finally, we explore the power of peer support in the firefighting community, a theme close to Gerald's heart. Whether it's connecting a colleague to a rehabilitation program or showing up for a friend diagnosed with terminal cancer, the importance of being there for one another cannot be overstated. Gerald's stories serve as poignant reminders of the essential role relationships play in the fire service. Regardless of whether you're a first responder or not, there's a wealth of wisdom in this conversation about the transformative power of empathy and understanding. Tune in, and let's learn together, for in supporting one another, we build a stronger, more resilient community.

Gerald Mishoe Bio:
Gerald Mishoe has been involved in the Fire Service since 1967 as a firefighter, paramedic, company officer, and a chief officer. He was inducted into the South Carolina State Firefighter Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2007, he led the development of a counseling unit for the Charleston Fire Department after the tragic deaths of nine Charleston firefighters in the Sofa Super Store Fire. 

In 2012, he was one of the founders of the South Carolina Firefighter Assistance and Support Team that provides behavioral health care for emergency services personnel across the state. In 2013, the Charleston Firefighter Support Team transitioned to a non-profit organization, the Lowcountry Firefighter Support Team, that now serves twenty-three counties in the State with a comprehensive peer and clinical based program.

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Travis:

You are listening to All Clear, the Firefighter Health Awareness Podcast this week. Leave some tracks with guests. Gerald Mishew of the South Carolina Low Country Firefighter Support Team. I am Travis, your host, along with Eric, our co-host. Good to see you, eric, you too, and we have a special guest with us today. We have Gerald Mishew with us today. Eric, why don't I let you introduce Gerald and kind of go from there?

Eric:

I'm excited to have Mr Gerald with us. Gerald is the Executive Director of the Low Country Firefighter Support Team in South Carolina and he is a very dear friend of mine and an integral part of me being able to run the program that we had run up here in North Carolina. He has had a remarkable career in the fire department and continues on a daily basis to have a tremendous impact on the first responder community with his program. So thank you, Gerald, for joining us today.

Travis:

Thank you,.

Eric:

If you could go ahead and tell us a little bit about your fire department career and how that led you into what you're doing now with the Low Country Firefighter Support Team.

Gerald:

Well, frankly, I was one of the kids in the neighborhood who was lucky to be the son of a firefighter, so my dad was in the fire department when I was born, so I followed him into the fire service when I was 17, but spent many, many years prior to being 17 and riding fire trucks and going to fire for them and doing those sorts of things. I was in a small town in South Carolina where we didn't have a lot of liabilities more like Baybury back in those days, but it gave me an opportunity to learn about the fire department and know some great people would be graced by some great people, as they meant. When I was 17 years old, I joined the fire department at St Andrews Fire Department here in Charleston and I had a pretty good career. I worked at St Andrews for nine years and then I transitioned over to North Charleston District, which was another unincorporated area of the county, where I was an assistant chief and I finished my career as an assistant chief. I went out to retirement and I was retired a few years and unfortunately we had the tragic event of the Charleston 9 tragedy in super, super small fire where nine good men and firefighters were killed and there was an attempt made, there was a program put into place to provide behavioral health care for the Charleston Fire Department proper. Understanding the Charleston County alone as much like any other state, there are 14 different governmental entities and all of them had their own fire bombs. So Charleston was the largest at the time and had about 257 or so people. So we were put into place to start a peer support unit and a counseling unit for the Charleston Fire Department members and their families, which we did in 2007.

Gerald:

It wasn't very long before we realized that there was a whole lot of people out there who needed to kind of help we could offer and unfortunately, no fire departments not Charleston, not anybody else, not where I came from, but anybody else had any kind of behavioral health program in place. It was all still kind of taboo. It was all get by the best way you can, and my entire working career in fire service I never had the option of being able to talk to anyone other than maybe the Fire Department gentlemen. That being said, we opened up our doors and started seeing people, other agencies within Charleston County, and that led us to, in addition to fire bombs, we started seeing there VMS, 911 dispatchers and to some extent both. So the program continued to grow. We spread out outside of Charleston and we started doing three counties. As time continued to grow, we began a program. We now serve 27 counties in South Carolina. Wow, 46 counties and we serve 27 of them.

Gerald:

In the beginning there was one firefighter, me and three mental health clinicians. The four of us made up the Charleston firefighters 14. After about a year we set into place a peer training program and trained 14 people in the Charleston Fire Department to be peer team members. So our team began to grow some and, as we saw more and more people, we had people coming from all over the state. They were driving from Columbia and Earl Beach, beuford and all over the state to come to Charleston because that's where the first responder clinicians were. So we set out to remedy that and we created a clinicians academy and we invited all the clinicians we knew in the state that had the kind of credentials we were looking for People that were trained at EMDR, people that were trained at DBT and CBT and some of the other mindfulness programs, and we went out and recruited clinicians from all around the state. We now have 33 clinicians on our team and they're spread all over those 20 steps, to count it, and some counties outside of our coverage area where we're able to send a firefighter or a paramedic or a dispatcher or a police officer and see a clinician close to home, and they don't have to drive 100 miles to get to see one of ours. Those people who have been trained to serve for responders are doing an excellent job. Our team has continued to grow.

Gerald:

On the peer team side. We now, throughout the three organizations EMS and Nominal 1, we have 87 members of our peer team who serve in their particular communities. The officers is in support to those people seeking that kind of help and we, in turn, will make referrals to an appropriate clinician if they need that level of care. It's been a program that's worked very well, but it's worked very well because of the dedication of a whole lot of people. 87 peer, 33 or so clinicians make up a pretty formal routine. We have partnered with people like the First 100 Peers Support Network, eric Spruitt, north Carolina, the South Carolina FAST team. That's the team that was formed in 2012 to take care of first responders in South Carolina. We have another support one, so there are multiple teams around South Carolina that do what we do.

Gerald:

We've been doing it just a little bit longer and I don't know if that makes it ever one way or another, but we're fortunate to have a lot of emphasis put on first responder behavior in our state and we try to set a good example. One thing we're very proud of is we always have, since the very beginning, the very first meeting, we've always taken care of our first responder and their family memories. So when we take care of a firefighter, we make sure that his family's doing okay, that he has the kind of support at home that he deserves to have, that he is giving the kind of support he deserves to give to his family. And it's been a pretty amazing experience. We have partners in all sorts of treatment facilities and shadow proof Florida. We have the AFF Center for Excellence. There's a bunch of different programs around and there's a bunch of different private treatment facilities around them. We can't send team. So we're very proud of that.

Gerald:

We've been working hard. It's hard to believe that 16 years have gone by. It's hard to believe that we put 35 years in the fire service and never had an opportunity to ever get any help. So we've been running hard to try to catch up, very excited about new people coming in. We're making an effort to get into all recruit training classes, to expose our new recruits to this kind of mindset, if you will. And the set-up culture is still around with some of the old timers, but not as much as it has been. There are a lot of people getting help from us but, more importantly, there are a lot of people who have gotten help from us who are going back out into the fire stations and onto the medic units and into the nominal one centers and giving help to other people. That encourage and other people to do what they did, and that's why our program has grown.

Eric:

That's amazing.

Gerald:

From that purpose 16 years.

Eric:

You and I know a lot of the same people, gerald. When it comes to the behavioral health and the mental health side of first responders and the peer support programs and things like that, we consider you the OG of this. 16 years, that's a long time. I can remember back in my career 16 years ago and there is absolutely no way that we were even thinking down these lines of behavioral health issues and people having to reach out for help in that stigma still being attached to it. So 16 years, what do you think the biggest change in first responder behavioral health has been that you've seen in those 16 years?

Gerald:

Well, obviously, accessibility, because 16 years ago we didn't have anything. We created it right out of the box. Quite frankly, we didn't always get it right. We fell on our face a few times, stumped our toes and realized we needed to back up and reduce some things. We learned, particularly in the very early days, that firefighters don't want to go to a mental health center to get help. They want to go somewhere where it's private and where they won't run into people that they either see or know or have responded to a call with. They won't come. Obviously they don't trust clinicians in general, or didn't trust clinicians in general, because they didn't think clinicians understood what a firefighter or a paramedic has to do out in the street and all of folks not our team, but the people that we help our firefighters, our paramedics, our non-religious banners have been very good at educating our clinicians. When they see them as a client, if you will, they also educate our clinicians and teach them a whole lot about the first responders world, and that's one of the biggest changes we've had. Acceptance is still a big problem sometimes, but we have a lot of people. We've had eight referrals since yesterday morning. Wow, Even in any shape of the imagination is a busy time, busy 24 hours for us. People are taking advantage of their calling and asking about it. We're very fortunate to have a plan in place in this state that pays a $15,000 of benefit for firefighters and paramedics and I don't know why Dispatchers and police officers to get mental health care if they need it. So there's no reason that people can't take advantage of it or should take advantage of it.

Gerald:

Sometimes, when we work with people for a long time the longest, I think, the record that I have of anybody is one fellow who I've worked with for 12 years Saw him regularly, provided peer support to him regularly, and one night he came to an event we had and he came to me and wanted to talk. We went in a private room and closed the door and he just broke down the crying and said I just can't do this anymore. I've got to have some help. So after 12 years we were able to leave to a condition and he is doing amazing down. And not only that, but once he got himself in a good place, started helping himself. Then he realized what he needed to do to help the people around him. So his family life is better. His friendships are better. He's not drinking like he once was. I mean, there's so many good things that can come out of this and we're very, very happy about it. We also have a rich program and we're very proud of our children's program.

Travis:

Hey hey. Gerald, can I ask you a question real quick, kind of going back to what you were saying and how you know peer support has evolved and gotten to where we are now? Would you say that firefighters in general now are more open to the thought of seeking support for mental health issues or anxiety stress, whatever the case is, or do you think it's kind of the same stigma that it had years ago?

Gerald:

No, no, I clearly think the stigma has been softened. You know we still got guys that won't reach out for help. I had a guy tell me yesterday you're not going to send me to a loony bin. Now are you? I said, no, we're not going to a loony bin, matter of fact, we don't have any nooks. I want to send you to a clinician and you tell me if this works out for you. If it does, we'll try somebody else.

Gerald:

So we give them an opportunity to make decisions and to be a part of that city-making process. And again, the real strength of what we do is the people out there, firefighters who once were tangled up in that culture, who once sucked it up and just went on with their lives, who are now changed to flow into rivers, so to speak, and they're helping other people get that help. The peer side of a team is very important because it gives a firefighter an opportunity to do something very private, very confidential, by talking to another firefighter who's been trained to help him, without making a big deal, like going inpatient somewhere, going to a clinicians office. But I can tell you that there are there are a lot of great people around here who've done for it very hard to get themselves to a better place. We still have those old house. You know that one guy held out on me 12 years that's probably my personal record but we didn't give up for it. Man, we won't ever give up. Nobody fights along.

Eric:

That's a big onion appeal back 12 years, you know, before they finally opened up. And that leads to, you know Travis kind of asked the question. I'm sure when you started this 16 years ago, you were probably not received with open arms with what you were doing. And now, like you were saying, you got people that you might have a contact with or you might talk to that are going back and telling their work partners or they're telling their friends hey, go talk, you know, and that's what we want. We want to be able to create that ripple effect and there's nothing better than that when we see that taking place. You mentioned the importance of first responder clinicians. You know, somebody that understands what the first responder is doing and why they're actually seeking help. How important is that that the first responder, that the clinician, understands what the first responder does on a daily basis?

Gerald:

I think it's extremely important Matter of fact. I think that's the gold star If we have a gold star in our whole program is that we have clinicians who know a lot about the fire services. One of the reasons that I was chosen to kind of lead this operation 16 years ago and there were lots of people that could have done this I just happened to be the one that got picked, but they were looking for someone with a background in the fire service because the clinicians were seeing firefighters right after the fire and they were coming back. The clinicians were coming back. I have never heard such things. I've never seen such things happen out there in the street. I know these people were faced with these kinds of things and firefighters notoriously talk in a lot of acronyms and abbreviations. We'll have to know how to do it. They talk about it, and so my job was pretty simple in the beginning. It was my job to educate the clinicians on how the fire service worked and to tell them what it meant about crawling down a dark hallway or using an SCPA or having a RIT team stand, but I didn't understand any of those acronyms or things. But once they started learning that and again we took them through our academy where we taught them that stuff. We put them into burn building and breathing apparatus. We put them into a sheriff's office shoot room to shoot guns and to understand what it's like to be confronted with a perpetrator with a gun. We put them into back of the Amazons to let them climb the arrow towers. We weren't trying to make firefighters or paramedics out of them. We were trying to expose them to what our people get exposed to and, as you might imagine, it came off very well and was very well received, and I eventually transitioned from that role into being a team leader for the whole team.

Gerald:

One of the reasons that they were looking for someone like me now again there were a bunch of people who could do it was they were looking for somebody who had some name recognition and an old guy that's floating around and had been in the fire service 35 years in the same community. Most people knew me, so I was able to. You could send the clinicians to a station to visit and they'd get the cold shoulder. They could ask me to go with them and I would break down the door, so to speak. I'd get in there and come up with the guys and tell them what we were here for and introduce them to the clinicians and over a period of time the clinicians really learned their lessons well and they've done a good job. I wouldn't trade anything for the clinicians. We have some wonderful, dedicated clinicians. We have some that I've stopped seeing in general public. They don't see anybody but first responders. Now, that's all they want to be committed to.

Eric:

That's amazing.

Travis:

You know it's interesting. I was having a conversation with a medical doctor yesterday who's working with the cancer alliance a little bit and Dr Tom mentioned that you know he is very intimidated when it comes to, like the terms we use in the fire service, how we describe things. Because he said, just as much as you may be intimidated when you listen to us give a medical lecture, he said we're very much intimidated about when we listen to what firefighters do or different actions. So I think the point that clinicians are willing to learn, I think that's a huge step forward and because there's as much for us to understand about their world as there is for them to understand about ours. So definitely a change from what it was just a few years ago.

Gerald:

Yeah, and I think one thing that's so important and Eric's heard Eric and I have talked about this dozens of times. He's heard me say it many times A lot of people won't engage in this program and won't be a part of this program because they're afraid they're gonna be judged. They don't want somebody to judge them and tell them there's something wrong with them. Number one we believe and we learned this from our counterparts in the fire department in New York who are a peer team and they came down to help train us in the beginning. But people don't wanna be fixed, people wanna be heard. You give somebody a chance to be heard and you just let them talk and you be there as a sporting person in the shoulder to lean on. Don't worry about fixing them. There's plenty of time for that. Let them get out of their system, what's in their system, and don't judge them and don't make rash decisions based on what you think they might need. Give them an opportunity to work through it. Give them an opportunity to understand. They can talk to a clinician. They don't have to go but one time. You go one time and if it doesn't work for you we'll figure out something else.

Gerald:

But the other thing is that we truly believe, in order to continue to maintain that stance, of what people really need is that we just simply need to remember that everybody has a story. We all have a story. There's nobody here that can be judged. None of us three or four of us could be judged Got everybody in the room, whether you in a bag of shirts filled with 500 people, or you had a 12 person training class in the fire department. Everybody has something that's happened in their life that they needed in before. Now do we make judgment? Certainly, if I believe that you're talking to me and asking for help and I believe that the best thing for you is to get you connected with one of our clinicians and let them talk to you professionally, then I will make that call based on your acceptance and your wish to make that happen. But we're not gonna make you do anything. We're not gonna sign you up for 15 visits or whatever. We're gonna be there for you on the day that you need help. That's something.

Eric:

Can you give that person that piece of hope that they might be missing in their life and letting them know that, no matter what it is, like you said, everybody's got a story and we never know that, never know what that story is and unfortunately we're very quick to judge as a society in general nowadays and having that supportive person of hey, I'm gonna be here for you, no matter what, that might be, that one thing that they are missing, that they truly need to give them that hope and that inspiration and if we can nudge them a little bit and encourage them that hey, there is, help you peel that onion back like that 12 year journey you went on with that one individual that is so powerful it really is. What do you think the biggest obstacle is you face as a peer team leader right now, as a team? What do you think is the biggest obstacle that stands in front of you with trying to connect with individuals?

Gerald:

Well, this is not a blanket statement by any of my imagination, because there's lots of good leaders in the fire service who provide support for this program, but we still have quite a few bunches, as a matter of fact, people in the leadership positions. I help them, the fire departments you get me sorry about that. Who? Are we are live folks.

Travis:

Absolutely. We don't pre-record.

Gerald:

Who simply don't embrace the fact that people in their fire department might need him. I think sometimes they're worried about if we send a firefighter to a condition. If he talks to a condition, the condition is gonna find out things about the fire officer that that chief doesn't want him to find out. And of course we have chiefs, leadership in the fire department, who are the check block guys. I call them. Years ago we fought fire with two and a half inch hose and booster lines and then over the years we started getting three inch hose, then we got five inch hose and we got breathing apparatus assigned to every man. I can remember back in the day we had two breathing apparatus on each pumper and there were three or four guys on the truck so we had to flip a coin and see who got to use it. But now they're on personal radios, accountability systems, lots of stuff coming along.

Gerald:

So a lot of people have embraced, if you will lightly embraced, this thing of peer support and mental health for firefighters because they don't want to get left behind and they're creating programs that they're on the farmers and they're checking. That block said, yep, I got a peer team, we're good to go, and then they never give the peer team any support. You look at the budget there's no money in the budget for the peer team. There's money in the budget for the hazmat team. There's money in the budget for the special operations team no money for the peer team. We continue to have that problem, but we were far along because of very dedicated chiefs in the fire service and we've been very fortunate to have some of those people who have supported us to carry it to the top of the mountain, so to speak. But that's a big thing. We're still overcoming that. We still have those people that just don't want to give help.

Eric:

But it's just wait, I agree with you that invest in your people and it's not just investing in their training and that they're gonna be a good employee, that they're gonna be a healthy employee for you. And if we can get on the front side of it and we show them that it's okay, that the job is not all rainbows and unicorns, as you've all heard me say before, that there's gonna be struggles, there's gonna be adversity and it's okay to not be okay, and if we let them know that we've gotta open that up and we've gotta make them feel comfortable about talking about some of these difficult conversations, these difficult times in their life, and treat them like a family, not just as an employee. Your employees are not disposable. We've got to invest the time, the effort, the money of putting programs together and support them in every aspect of the job.

Eric:

It's funny that you mentioned specific things to the Hazmat team technical rescue, whatever else. There's always money and time for that. I've just had a conversation the other day with somebody we might actually had this conversation with Michael Kavanis the other day too Travis that sometimes the training programs are a little out of skew. You look how much time is spent in the firefighter curriculums on folding salvage covers. Is that an important task of our job? Yeah, I guess so. Do we really need to spend 12 hours on showing somebody how to fold and deploy a salvage cover? And we have very minimal, if anything, incorporated on the mental health side of what we do on the job, you know.

Travis:

And you know something along those same lines and I remember what you, when we had that conversation with Kavanis that sometimes we lose focus on what's important and when things like mental health and wellness, peer support come up, even cancer, whatever the case is, we as the fire service tend to be very reactive and as soon as we hear the word, it becomes the buzzword for two, three, four years at every conference you go to and things like that. Then all of a sudden it kind of shrinks and goes away and you know, right now peer support is the hot topic right now and it's very important, no doubt, but we've got to keep it in the front of people's minds beyond its cycle at the conference, so to speak, Absolutely. So how do you think we can do that, how do you think we can keep it, you know, on the top of people's minds, so to speak?

Eric:

I've got my opinion on it and that's doing what I'm doing, what the members of my team are doing same thing that Gerald and his team is doing and that's advocate, advocate, advocate. Getting out there as much as possible, letting people know who we are, what we do, and sharing. We've got to be able to share, we've got to be able to open up and show that vulnerability and we just can't roll over. This is a true passion of mine. I know it's a passion of Gerald and we got to keep grinding at it every single day. This is what I do, I'm involved with it every day, same with Gerald, and we've got to get more people that are willing to do that yeah and not only people, I guess, to lead the charge, but also people that are willing to use the service, so to speak.

Travis:

People have to be aware that it's there and not be afraid to use it. And then when you meet somebody like Gerald, which I am blown away by just the experience and the knowledge that you have about this and since we started doing this podcast, I've started getting my primary in mental health and things like that and it really amazes me at how long these things have been in place, but yet how long people haven't taken advantage of it.

Eric:

Yeah, yeah, and I'm hoping it will turn out to be something like what Gerald mentioned before the SCBAs Having four guys on the Peace Apparatus and only two SCBAs and nobody really wanted to wear them. Now, look, you got guys wearing SCBAs on just about every single incident they go to, and I'm hoping the same thing eventually will happen with the mental health and the behavioral health side of things, that hey, this is something new, it's uncomfortable, it's kind of awkward, but it's gonna prove itself and I think that we have proven ourself to a certain extent that this is legitimate. It's a needed service, these teams are providing good, valuable resources and hopefully one day it'll be the normal in the fire service. That's what I'm hoping for.

Travis:

Definitely.

Gerald:

There's a couple other things. Number one you need to understand that and the business of being a peer team or a mental health team. You're gonna step on some toes every once in a while and you gotta have a thick skin yourself and be willing to step on toes. An example is we go I give you a list of fire departments in the lower state of South Carolina. You pick 20 of them any 20 of them and give me the names and I check with those fire departments and I find out what kind of recruit classes they have. Some will have a recruit class, some will send them to the State Fire Academy, but quite a few fire departments have big recruit classes that'll last three or four months, sometimes six months. You get the curriculum for that recruit class. You don't see any mention anywhere, nowhere, of any talk about behavioral health. That should be the very first thing we should be introducing them to the program. I'm not boring them to death with days worth of training, but tell them about the program and tell them who's involved and what it's about.

Gerald:

And people still get caught up in the old adage of critical incidents. Cism is critical incidents and that program has done a tremendous amount of good. But the kind of programs that we're talking about here is not just for critical incidents. As a matter of fact, majority of the time it's about things that happen in their personal lives. It's about marriage difficulties, drinking too much, or child rearing problems, or financial problems, or it's about misunderstandings and disagreements in the firehouse when the people that you work with. So it is a job related to that, but it's not always about going to a bad call, and if we treat it just as a bad call, son or scenario, then we miss so, so much of things that people really struggle with in their life. The guy that led me around for 12 years I don't know what I found like Corality wasn't about fire problem. It's about his personal life, things that happened to him when he was a child. I mean, this guy's like 60 years old. He's telling me things that happened to him when he was a child.

Gerald:

That he missed his whole life. We have the clinicians to help take care of people. We have doctors if we need doctors to help take care of people. But we got to be willing to stand up to a chief and say look, chief, I'm looking at your curriculum here for this group class. You got 40 new people in this recruit class. Not a single minute source of time is devoted to behavioral health care. Give me two hours, just give me two hours. That's all I want. Let me go in there and bring some of our team members Eric and I've done this together before Go to that recruit class and tell them about this program and tell them why they need this program and what it will do for them, and educate them so that when they hit stations they know they have some kind of support behind them already above and young chief officer give.

Eric:

It's funny listening, listening to you say that. You know that it it is not All about the bad stuff, you know, it's regular life things that I know our team, you know, deals with a lot. You know it's personal stressors in their life and they're having a difficult time with it and it's like that game show. You know, I'm pulling out a lifeline here and I'm gonna phone a friend. You know, hey, pick the phone up. You know, talk to us, we'll sit there and listen to you. Like Gerald said, you know, a Majority of the time all people want is to be heard. You know they want to be listened to. They don't want their problem to be solved, they just want to know that they're not alone Going through that that struggle right there. What is the most rewarding part for you when it comes to peer support, gerald?

Gerald:

When we receive a call from someone looking for help and asking for help and asking for Sometimes it's not necessary to go to a commission, sometimes somebody on the beer team. And one thing that we're blessed with Our team is we have enough people in our fire, ems and one teams that we can put them. We can put somebody. If you're not one with dispatch, you might not want to talk to a firefighter, they might want not want to talk to a paramedic, so we can put people on our 911 teams there with those folks. If we have to respond out of town and there's a multiple casual like police, mass shooting with police and so forth, we put together a team of responders from all three of our teams and we'll go to that location. Last one was we had a police shooting just in Florence, south Carolina, in 2018. We will understand there for days. We have people.

Gerald:

People ask about you know you can have the shiniest car in the world, man in the new tires and hot rod. Nobody ever wants to ride with you. What are you gonna do right around by yourself? Well, I like for people to step up and say we need some help and I really the most pleasing thing for me personally Is to see one of our team members excel at helping somebody and they go, wow, it wasn't gonna be able to do that. And they did, and they didn't have to turn to us.

Eric:

That's phenomenal awesome, so is there anything else that you would like to share with us today, gerald?

Gerald:

No, just being there for people's what's so important you can. You can narrow it down to some kind of a little cool saying if you want, whatever you want to do had a friend and I'll tell this story real quick that we had a friend, john Wynn, who was a battalion chief in Charleston fireball. He was struggled very badly after Charleston line fire because he lost. Most of the people that died were in his battalion over in the West side of town. He struggled real bad. He got the drinking real bad. He got himself in pretty bad trouble drinking. And the reason I'm telling this story outside of confidence out is because he wanted me to tell him. He told me this for sure, but he came to me one day so I need some help, man, I cannot control my drinking and I need some bill.

Gerald:

We got him in a day program at what's called the Charleston Center, which was an alcohol rehab program that he could attend at his own time and his own pace. And he went and did that and he got much, much better and he came back and he said that was amazing, I want to join this team. Can you train me to be a peer team member? And he was a 34 year veteran, I believe at the time. I mean he was much out of respect. He got around so to have him want to be on your team was like having Mickey mental want to play ball with. So we sent him to class, drained him up, he got on our class. He became one of the most avid peer supporters we had on our team at the time he he passed away. Unfortunately, about a time of his death. He had referred over 50 firefighters to our counseling unit to the commission.

Gerald:

Wow wow he came by to see me one day we were very close friends anyway, so we would eat lunch together and that sort of thing came by my office. I said look, what's going on with you. I said what do you mean? What's going on with me? He said I haven't heard from you what's happening. You usually call me, come by to see me. I haven't heard from you.

Gerald:

Well, month prior that He'd come by to share with me that he had terminal cancer and he was undergoing chemo treatments. And I was heartbroken because he was my brother in every sense of word. I said, john, I don't know what. I don't know what to say. I'm scared. I don't say the wrong thing. I won't be able to help you, I don't know what to do. So I guess I just shy away from coming to contact.

Gerald:

I won't tell you exactly where he's he used, but he basically said stop, I Need you to come by and see me, he said. I Said okay, well, I'll come out to your house. He and his wife had just built a brand new home, still had a dirt yard, didn't even have grass, shit. I Said I come out there and I ran the door. But I'm afraid you want to talk to me and you won't come to the door. He said if I don't want to talk to you, I'm not coming to the door. Just get behind in the car and go back another day. He said but I'll see you've been there because I'll see your tracks in the yard. I Don't want to tell you he wasn't asking for anything special. He was asking for a friend to be there for him and he said tracks in the yard as well. He'll let me know that you were there and that you are here when I need you.

Travis:

You make that impression on people, Yep you sure do, and those impressions last a very long time.

Eric:

Yes, I do time Very well. I can't thank you enough for joining us today, gerald, you know this has been absolutely fantastic. And how? How can people get in touch with you or your team if need be?

Gerald:

eight four three, six zero, nine Eight three zero zero. That's eight four three, six zero, nine, eight, three zero zero. Or Go to our website at firefighter supportorg very simple website.

Gerald:

We have put those now you can send us a message, will contact you. I don't care if you live in Kansas or Puerto Rico or California. If you need help, you call us. I know Eric will do the same thing. There's plenty of help. If you don't have any help right at the end of your fingertips at home, we will get you help. We we work very hard to build relationships with parents, with clinicians all over the country and so another peer teams all over the country. Some great people doing the same thing we do and we will find you help. It's in the need help any you.

Eric:

It's like what Lee says. You know, it's all about the relationships and we build those relationships every single day. We might not have the answers, but we know a lot of people and we can get you in touch with who you need. So please do not hesitate in reaching out to Gerald's team, my team or any other team in between. The help is there and you are worth it.

Travis:

All that info will be in our show notes whenever we get ready to publish.

Gerald:

Yes, so again, we'll be on with you today. Eric, you know I love you, you and I together all the time.

Eric:

Yes, sir, thank you so much.

Travis:

You know, gerald, before you leave. We do have a little tradition here on All Clear.

Eric:

Oh no, Hold on to your bridges, Gerald.

Travis:

I ask a question to Eric. Do you know what you call a boomerang that does not come back?

Eric:

A stick.

Travis:

A stick. Very good, hey, you got it, first one you've gotten.

Gerald:

Just on my thunder.

Travis:

So we will go keep up the dad jokes until we get enough people to download and listen.

Gerald:

But again, Gerald, thank you.

Eric:

Yeah.

Travis:

Well, we hope you'll be back sometime soon too, because you've been fun to have on the show. All right, well, very good, all right, well, thank you all again. I am Travis. This is Eric. We've got Gerald Miss you with us and we'll talk to you soon. Thank you for listening to All Clear. Thanks, guys, thank you.

Firefighter Health Awareness and Support Program
Changing Stigma
Peer Support for First Responders
Peer Support & Mental Health Importance
Importance of Being There for People"