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What is Peer Support?

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First responder peer support is crucial. While it can be rewarding, being a first responder is also one of the hardest, loneliest, and most stressful jobs around. What many people don’t know is that substance abuse and suicide occur at dramatically higher rates within first responder professions—and, because they are used to helping rather than being helped, first responders may be slow to seek treatment and feel out of place in a general rehab program. With support from their own peers, on the other hand, many first responders do well in treatment and are able to make a solid recovery.

 

It seems that there is a lot of buzz around family of first responder peer support these days and rightly so. This is one area of the “fire service” that has been neglected for far too long. Many fire departments have implemented peer support for the firefighters and many are still in need of their own peer program. However, to establish a family peer team it goes even beyond offering the support to just the firefighter. In our opinion, to truly be effective the family dynamic needs to be addressed from both ends, home and firehouse. This is hopefully where the family peer support can prove to be effective.

 

As the spouse of a firefighter it brings forth many challenges and feelings. From that of pride to sometimes even loneliness. Long unpredictable shifts, overtime, holidays - birthdays & anniversaries missed. All done so with the understanding that… simply put, it’s the way of the fire life. Though there are many great benefits to the firefighter career, much of the day to day responsibilities of life and family can oftentimes fall on the spouse at home. We take on these challenges all the while being concerned about our loved one on shift.

 

There are so many questions surrounding what this (family peer support) could or should look like. The “family peer support” is an area that needs to be treated with complete confidentiality and done so with trained individuals - sharing of concerns, frustrations, receiving support and understanding can help one to cope with the many challenges they may face over time. With all new things, comes hurdles and obstacles. We must overcome these in order to implement the family peer support and have it be beneficial in a way that is informative, supportive and effective. Done so in a way that earns and keeps the trust of the firefighter and their family while helping them to overcome and / or understand the various dynamics of firefighter life.

 

One question that gets asked a lot to us; how should the family peer support look?

 

I suppose that the way in which family peer support should look just depends on if you are asking the spouse or the firefighter. For many of us as wives of firefighters, we are desperately seeking... But what are we seeking? Are we looking for clues to show up in our firefighter that lets us know they may have had a bad call? Are we trying to understand how to balance work / life / shift? Are we looking for reassurance that our firefighter will be and is ok, both on duty and off? Are we looking to help other wives? Are we desiring to be around other wives? Are we trying to fix something in our relationship that we are struggling with? Are we wanting to make the lives of the next generation of fire wives easier? The answer is yes, yes and yes to all the above.

 

We as spouses are aware of the risk every time our firefighter goes on shift and puts on their gear. We worry about their safety & their health. We oftentimes notice the impact the job has on their mental health and how it may carry through the home and into our own relationships. All of these things add up and can leave you feeling overwhelmed and wondering how to support your firefighter while trying to take care of yourself and keep your family healthy too.

 

It is important to recognize the difference in Wife Support and Family Peer Support. They are both equally important and tremendously beneficial to the families they serve. For the firefighters whose departments have already implemented Peer Support, they have resources available to them to assist some of the challenges they may face. But, what about the family side of things? Are there resources, contacts, and helpful information provided to the spouses and family members in times of need? This is where the Family Peer Team can really play a key role in the fire family as a whole.

 

Peer support in the truest sense is provided by trained peers who, based on their similar experiences, provide emotional support, awareness, guidance, tips, suggestions, and an empathetic ear. Above all the program is confidential and families are able to seek out support and resources on their own terms and in a comfortable environment. The family peer team is held to the same high standards as the firefighter peer team and proper training is a must. Having someone to advocate for the change and growth in our fire community provides hope moving forward.

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