Greensboro firefighters keep mental health in shape with peer support

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- You have to pass physical tests to become a firefighter but staying on the job also means keeping your mental health in shape.

Firefighters run thousands of calls every year and often see things that are too painful to put into words.

In Greensboro, they’re finding help by talking to people who understand through an approach called peer support.

“What that's really talking about is supporting our own people mentally,” Greensboro Fire Department Deputy Chief Dwayne Church said.

The International Association of Fire Fighters has been developing peer support programs.

Greensboro’s fire department has been a test site for the curriculum for three years, but training continues.

The department has 25 peer support team members and an administrative board.

Anyone in the department can look on the list of members and find someone to talk to.

“If I'm on duty and I know that a specific company has had a fairly traumatic call, I may reach out to that company officer, go by for a visit, sit down at the kitchen table over a cup of coffee, just see how things are,” Greensboro Fire Department Assistant Chief Jim Boggs said.

Peer support team members are not clinical professionals, which is why they also develop relationships with licensed counselors, preferably ones who understand the demands of the job.

The International Association of Fire Fighters is scheduled to visit the Greensboro Fire Department later this month to teach a class on resiliency.

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