Public service announcement raises awareness of wellness resources

Bruce Evans, Chief of the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District, films a public service announcement on health and wellness in the area of ​​first responders. (Courtesy Preston Benson Videography / Mindy Walck)

The Upper Pine River Fire Protection District took the limelight on Tuesday to raise public awareness of health and wellness in the area of ​​first responders.

The Fire District, which covers 284 square miles primarily in eastern La Plata County, worked with the FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition to film a public service announcement on the impacts of career on health and resources of mental well-being. More and more people seem to be abandoning the industry and its stressors, said Chief Bruce Evans of Upper Pine.

“We are concerned about attracting new people to the business and retaining the people we have,” he said.

It is estimated that 30% of first responders suffer from behavioral health problems, such as depression and PTSD. Firefighters attempted or thought about suicide at higher rates than the general population, according to a 2018 report from Addiction and Mental Health Services.

The PSA video spoke about work stress and local and national resources to help first responders, such as peer support teams, Evans said. Filming ended on Tuesday and the PSA video will be released in the coming months.

“There is a dramatic drop in the number of EMTs and paramedics who are either recertified or upcoming,” said Evans, who is also president of the National Association of Emergency Medicine Technicians.

Many people felt exhausted after the COVID-19 emergencies in 2020. Others left because of low wages on the ground or because of mismanagement in their agencies, he said.

“Statistically it looks like people will change employers twice and the third time they will just leave the profession and do something different,” Evans said.

The industry is trying to create resources to address these staffing issues and improve employee well-being.

The National Association of Emergency Medicine Technicians is one of more than two dozen members of the FirstNet Health & Wellness Coalition, which provides holistic health resources for first responders. The group focuses on stress management, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide prevention, fitness and leadership engagement.

This is an initiative of FirstNet, a wireless network dedicated to public safety communications. The network, built with AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority, operates nationwide and prioritizes communication frequencies for public safety operations.

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