OC Firefighters Complete Peer Wellness Training

OCEAN CITY — By definition, firefighters are trained to put others before themselves, but dozens of Ocean City first-responders recently completed training on how to look out for their own.

Nearly 30 members of the Ocean City Fire Department recently completed the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Peer Support training. The class is highly interactive and gives firefighters and EMS providers the knowledge and skills to provide support for their peers. First-responders often compartmentalize the stresses related to the job, but the peer support training allows them to recognize when their colleagues might be hurting internally or are in need of some mental health assistance.

“Our firefighters and EMS providers face various stresses throughout the course of their careers,” said Ocean City Fire Chief Richie Bowers. “This includes mass casualty events, violence, injury to children and the inherent dangers of firefighting. This can have a cumulative impact on mental health and well-being. This peer support class will help our members take care of each other and have a basic understanding of common behavioral health issues affecting the fire service.”

Peer support programs have proven to be an effective method for providing support to occupational groups, including firefighters.  Peer support includes the process by which a trained member of the fire service provides confidential support to another member who is experiencing personal, emotional or work-related problems while acting as a bridge to outside professional services.

Peer support builds off of an existing rapport and mutual trust between two members of the same department or occupation. Ocean City Volunteer Fire Department President Jay Jester also reflected on the effectiveness of the peer support training.

“This training is an outstanding opportunity for our members to learn how best to take care of our own,” he said. “We spend decades caring for others and rarely see the toll that we ourselves pay for that honor. It is most reassuring that we will now have a group of angels on our shoulders.”

One of the goal’s of the Ocean City Fire Department’s strategic plan is to prioritize the safety, health and wellness of all career and volunteer personnel and the peer support course recently completed helps move the department closer to completing that initiative.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.