In times of crisis, it is the first responders who show up to help those in need. They work non-stop to help the victims. They risk their lives for us each time they respond to an emergency situation. For this reason, we owe it to them to give back. But, giving back does not mean writing a $5 check or buying them a t-shirt. We can do much more than that. 

Tune in as Jennifer sits with First Responders Resiliency Inc. Founder Sue Farren, Tidewell Foundation President Debbie Mason, and Dr. Adrienne Heinz break down the three R’s of helping our helpers. In this focus episode, you will hear why addressing this issue benefits the whole community, how more experienced folks can assist younger ones, and how to ignite the spirit of togetherness. 

First responders continue to put their lives on the line day after day. Seeing them like this shows the depth of their humanness. But they also need help as much as we do, maybe even more than we do, and we have the privilege of contributing to whatever effort is being made for our first-responders who are suffering in the shadows.

 

“We need the senior folks to be able to lead the younger ones down the trenches so they know how to keep themselves safe.”  -Sue Farren

 

“You have to get over yourself because this is not about turf… Let’s work together collectively.” -Debbie Mason

 

“We have to not only go beyond education, we need mental health action.” -Dr. Adreinne Heinz

 

 

 

Highlights:

  • 01:32: S1 Ep12: How to Help the Helpers (First Responders) with Sue Farren
  • 05:16: S1 Ep 10: How to Create a Mental Health System with Debbie Mason
  • 07:59: S2 Ep 3: How to Design and Implement a Mental Health Collaborative with Adrienne Heinz, Ph.D.

 

Quotes: 

04:55: “We need the senior folks to be able to lead the younger ones down the trenches so they know how to keep themselves safe.”  -Sue Farren

05:09: “Hopefully, people will become aware that we’re out here and start to give in a way that allows us to be sustainable and get that work out.” -Sue Farren   

05:31: “It’s human nature to want to fix all the problems now… Those are really difficult conversations to have as human beings because we want everybody to be well and good.” -Debbie Mason

07:02: “You have to get over yourself because this is not about turf… Let’s work together collectively.” -Debbie Mason

08:43 “We have to not only go beyond education, we need mental health action.” -Dr. Adreinne Heinz

09:49: “The cost to our society for untreated mental health conditions is tremendous, not only the economic consequences … but also our well-being as a nation. So, when you don’t address trauma in a community, it tends to manifest in other ways.” -Dr. Adreinne Heinz

 

Meet Sue:

Susan Farren is the founder of First Responders Resiliency Inc. A graduate of the Stanford paramedic program, Susan has served her entire career in the industry of pre-hospital care. Serving in both the private and public sectors as a paramedic, supervisor, operations manager, peer counselor, clinical manager, EMS educator, and consultant throughout the greater Bay Area. After being diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2016, Susan had to come to grips with the physical, emotional, and mental impact the career had taken on her – and the Resiliency Training Program was born. After her treatment and recovery, Susan dove into the research and subsequent data discovered involving the mental and physical impacts the industry had taken on her. Armed with that knowledge she pulled together a team of experts from every division of the industry who are working as a team to change the lives of First Responders. A regularly sought-after inspirational speaker and the published author of The Fireman’s Wife, A Memoir. Her second book, Firestorm, A Survivor’s Story is released in 2019

 

Meet Debbie:

Debbie Mason

Debbie Mason is the President of Tidewell Foundation and Former CEO of Northern Sonoma County Healthcare Foundation. In 2017, as she was living in Healdsburg, she experienced first-hand the devastating effect of fires. As a survivor, she saw the need for a mental health system. Her passion burning, Debbie sought to bridge the gap between the shortage of mental health professionals and the people who need them. 

 

Meet Belia Ramos: 

Adrienne Heinz

In addition to her private practice, Dr. Heinz is a research scientist at the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at the Palo Alto VA Health Care System and Stanford University School of Medicine.  Within this organization, she conducts research trials to improve treatments for PTSD, disaster, and addiction, develops mobile mental health apps, and facilitates the implementation of mobile health technology into VA care nationwide.  Dr. Heinz also works as a consultant advising on mental health strategy in the workplace.   She currently serves as Vice President of the Redwood Psychological Association and is striving to increase awareness of the intersection of climate change and mental health in California.     

 

Transcription:

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Welcome to Season 3 of the How to Disaster Podcast where we help you recover, rebuild and reimagine. During this season, we will be releasing Take 5 shorter episodes that highlight some of our past guests speaking about similar issues, themes, topics. We wanted to do this so that perhaps would be easier if you only have a few minutes but you wanted to connect with these focused episodes and guests that you can condense all their messages into one smaller bite sized piece. One of the things that we know about disaster is that we really have to meet people where they’re at. And sometimes, where you’re at is you only have five minutes. We’re very excited for the third season. We’ve got great guests, wonderful information and content about how to actually help get your community through to the other side. So thank you for joining us. 

And if you wish to find out more, please visit our homepage at afterthefireusa.org. Consider giving us a like or follow if you liked this podcast. We really appreciate it, and thank you for your time.

 

From Season 1, Episode 12: How to Help the Helpers (First Responders). The Founder and CEO of First Responders Resiliency, Sue Farren.

 

Susan Farren:  

The firefighters are oftentimes, as you well know in our area, coming in from out of the area. So we’re getting firefighters from Los Angeles, all over the state, sometimes out of state coming to help us. And many of these firefighters from the state agencies and local agencies will be on the line. Sometimes, they’re on just for days or weeks at a time. But sometimes, you’re on for more than a month. So specifically related to things like CalFire, you can have firefighters out there for 39, 40 days, they’re away from their families. And sometimes, there’s the loss of life of one of their own colleagues while they’re still having to fight fire. They’re trying to process grief, which they can’t really do while they’re currently actively trying to fight fire. But they know that their colleagues are sometimes having to be rescued. There’s just this constant stress. What we deal with primarily is that sympathetic response that fight or flight, that’s this chronic dump of adrenaline and cortisol into their bloodstream and their systems, and it just completely wears them out. 

And I think one of the hardest things is the families. When they come back to their families after they’ve been gone all this time. I’m not trying to make this exactly the same as war. But when you’ve been gone that period of time and you come back and your families have nothing to relate to other than what they’re seeing on the television, they’ve had very little contact with you. Sometimes, there’s not even cell coverage in some of these areas. So the impact on the first responders psychologically and emotionally is increasing. I mean, beyond anything, any of us have experienced in the past, and I would say that it’s fair to relate this back to, like I said, being gone for more than a month at a time, the impact. 

And then here’s the really interesting thing that we’re discovering is that the following year when fire season is about to begin, firefighters are beginning to call into these programs like EAP, because they’re having anxiety attacks. So they’re not even thinking about the fires, but their nervous systems are responding to the fact that they recognise the time and season. And the first responders are beginning to have these sort of unconscious and unwanted responses to, even though they love their jobs, their nervous system is scared and rightfully so. So an enormous impact with the fires, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that this would not just be the Tubbs Fire, the Paradise Fire, and the Campfire, and the Kincade Fire, but it would just go on, and on, and on. And so huge impacts on them psychologically, emotionally, physiologically.

 

“We need the senior folks to be able to lead the younger ones down the trenches so they know how to keep themselves safe.”  -Sue Farren

 

Personally, you see a lot of things by thanking the first responders all over the city. Thank you first responders. And then you’ll see things like donating to a coffee card to buy them free coffee and food. And I, of course, appreciate that, especially after being a first responder. But then there’s this little piece of me that just kind of goes, oh, my gosh, they need more than coffee. We’ve got to give them the tools they need to stay alive so they can do this again next year. And what we want is we want people with experience on the line, one department has, they’re losing a dozen officers and they’re talking about having to bring all these young people who don’t have any experience, and that actually can be super detrimental in our industry because we need the senior folks to be able to lead the younger ones down the trenches so they know how to keep themselves safe. There’s a lot of work ahead of us, and I’m excited for the work. I’m excited for the expansion that we’re having a lot of requests across the nation for our assistance. But like you said, it’s going to take funding. And hopefully, people will become aware that we’re out here and start to give in a way that allows us to be sustainable and get that workout.

 

“Hopefully, people will become aware that we’re out here and start to give in a way that allows us to be sustainable and get that work out.” -Sue Farren

 

From Season 1,Episode 10: Debbie Mason, the Creator of the Mental Health Wildfire Collaborative from Northern Sonoma County Health Care Foundation.

 

Debbie Mason:  

I also think it’s human nature to want to fix all the problems now. We have to remember that some of our brothers and sisters already walk in uncomfortable situations. And when a disaster happens, they slip back even further. And so at some point, you have to say to yourself, am I bringing that person to what hole was before the disaster? Or am I trying to take them exponentially to another level? And those are really difficult conversations to have as human beings because we want everybody to be well and good.

 

“It’s human nature to want to fix all the problems now… Those are really difficult conversations to have as human beings because we want everybody to be well and good.” -Debbie Mason

 

The other piece of advice I would offer people is you have to get over yourself because this is done about turf. If you’re a funder, or you’re a make it happen organization, you need to be able to sit at the table and say, let’s all divide up the rules. And then let’s work together collectively to identify funders. And whichever piece they fund, that’s fine. But if we’re all working together, we will quilt these wonderful disparate pieces into a beautiful quilt solution. I really ran into a lot of resistance in 2017 from some funders who were just going to do it. I’m like, yeah, you’re going to do it, but you’re only going to do these pieces. And these other pieces are equally important. And if we approach it as a collective community together, it’ll really be beautiful, and will attract national funding that we might not get on our own.

 

“You have to get over yourself because this is not about turf… Let’s work together collectively.” -Debbie Mason

 

From Season 2, Episode 3: How to Design and Implement a Mental Health Collaborative. Adrienne Hines, PhD from the VA National Center for PTSD and Stanford University, School of Medicine.

 

Dr. Adrienne Heinz: That’s why we kind of targeted the whole community, or really anybody that felt impacted by the wildfires because we have a long way to go. We’re getting there by educating folks about, here’s the mental health effects that you might expect, one week out, one month out, one year out. And now, we’re four years out. And we’re different types of reactions when we smell smoke versus the 2017. And just recognising that we have to not only go beyond education, need mental health action. And so we have to make it incredibly easy for completely overwhelmed folks who have a lot of competing priorities, and not a lot of time, to access services and to educate them about here’s some signs that you might benefit from taking some time for self care with this mobile app called Sonoma Rises, or creating a community that looks at the mind, body connection with trauma informed yoga, or even going to see a healthcare professional who’s trained in trauma informed psychotherapy practices to get you back on track.

 

“We have to not only go beyond education, we need mental health action.” -Dr. Adreinne Heinz

 

But of the economic case, potentially for attending to well being, well, what we know from the World Health Organisation is that depression is the global leading cause of disability. Anxiety is number six or eight. So that means that it’s beating out diabetes, cancer, chronic pain, and that the cost to our society for untreated mental health conditions is tremendous. Not only for the economic consequences. People not showing up to work are able to participate in the workforce, but also our well being as a nation. So when you don’t address trauma in a community, it tends to manifest in other ways. You see more community violence, intimate partner violence. You see kids who are not thriving academically, you see more physical health conditions. And of course, substance use disorders. It has to go somewhere. And so if you don’t provide channels to address the pain, acknowledge and validate folks’ experiences, then you pay for it in other ways.

 

“The cost to our society for untreated mental health conditions is tremendous, not only the economic consequences … but also our well-being as a nation. So, when you don’t address trauma in a community, it tends to manifest in other ways.” -Dr. Adreinne Heinz

 

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