The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an increased burden onto an already strained US fire and rescue service. This burden has manifested not only in physical resource limitations, including a lack of PPE and staff, but has also negatively impacted the well-being of first responders. It is now more important than ever to collect mental health data.
The Frederick-Firestone Fire District has changed its emergency medical response protocols to include increased PPE when responding to ensure the safety of District staff, as well as the safety of those in need. While the District has been fortunate to have the needed PPE, how the daily changes in life around the station, on emergency calls, and at home has affected first responders is unknown.
This is why the District is partnering with the Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends (FIRST) to conduct a COVID-19 RAPID Mental Health Assessment of its department. This project, funded in part by Drexel University, builds on two FIRST Center programs: Fire Service Organizational Culture of Safety (FOCUS) and Stress and Violence in fire-based EMS Responders (SAVER). Both portfolios were developed with funding from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters grant program. FOCUS measures injuries and organizational outcomes within a fire department, including management commitment, supervisor support, burnout, job satisfaction, and engagement. SAVER provides a deeper mental health assessment using validated psychological scales.
Fire Chief Jeremy A. Young stated, “With the COVID-19 pandemic dominating everything we read and hear; it is natural for our men and women on the front lines to feel overwhelmed. For first responders who can solve any problems that come our way, this pandemic event has caused anxiety within an ever-changing landscape. Our leadership teams’ mission has always been to maintain the health and safety of our medical personnel and firefighters while serving the needs of our community, especially during this unprecedent time. We are honored and humbled to be chosen to participate along with 19 other fire departments across the nation to provide data to help support all of efforts in ensuring our personnel’s mental health is at the forefront.”
The District is among 20 other career and volunteer departments that were selected based on their previous FOCUS data and COVID-19 case count. This study will provide important data on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the mental health of first responders. Resulting data will be used to inform mental health, staffing, and policy needs both in usual operations as well as during crisis situations.
This assessment is important to the District because it will provide to executive staff how its crews have faired throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also help the District know where its Peer Support Team and other mental health offerings are working and where it can possibly improve in the future.