By Tara Figurski
The Truro Township trustees are considering adopting a behavioral health plan, that, if adopted, would give township employees access to a variety of mental health services including counseling, education and a peer support program.
Truro Fire Department Lt. Andy Wittenmeier put together the behavioral health plan for the township and presented a draft of the plan to the trustees in October. He said Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Sharps asked him to put the plan together.
“He stated in all of the chief meetings from around Central Ohio and statewide, it’s always something they have discussed,” Wittenmeier said.
Several of the components of the behavioral health plan were already in place in Truro Township, including an employee assistance program and a chaplaincy, Wittenmeier said.
“We wanted more services for the firefighters,” he said.
One component of the plan is a behavioral health liaison. The Truro Township administration will establish a behavioral health training liaison position. The position will be staffed by a department member trained in the unique behavioral health needs of firefighters and their families.
“The behavioral health liaison can respond to calls if staff needs help, if there is any kind of concern or a stressful incident,” Wittenmeier said.
Another component of the behavioral health plan is quarterly training focusing on behavioral health concerns. The behavioral health training liaison will develop a quarterly education and training on topics including occupational stress, wellness and stress management and other prevention and treatment options, according to the plan.
Family members will have access to quarterly training sessions as well. The training sessions for family members will be geared at teaching family members how to support their loved ones in fire service and make them aware of warning signs and symptoms of stress or depression.
“It is absolutely critical to get family involved,” Wittenmeier said.
The behavioral health liaison will promote a relationship with the OSU STAR program, a division of the Ohio State Behavioral Health outpatient program that offers integrated therapeutic interventions by health care professionals experienced in treating first responders suffering from traumatic stress events, according to the behavioral health plan.
A third component of the behavioral health plan is a peer support program. The peer support program will serve as a “first line” of assistance for staff members. A licensed counselor will serve as an adviser to the program and resource for referrals as needed.
“We will have access to additional counselors and services in Central Ohio and (counselors) who are familiar working with safety employees,” Wittenmeier said.
One of the components Wittenmeier is excited about is web based program that will provide firefighters with an online link where they can conduct a self guided assessment when they have a behavioral health concern. They can receive information on a variety of topics from sleep deprivation to post traumatic stress disorder, he said.
“There will be a self guided survey with 10 to 20 questions they can answer honestly that can point them in the right direction of talking with their family physician or seeking immediate help,” Wittenmeier said.
“This is a work in progress,” Sharps said. “The next step is the officers meeting. This is something we want to make sure the girls and guys are comfortable with.”