Mental health wellness is a requirement for firefighters and emergency medical responders. Seeking to address the need is the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome (HERO) Act proposed by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). In the current 117th Congress, a bipartisan group of 31 legislators led by Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) reintroduced the HERO Act into the House of Representatives. The proposal had previously been passed in the House but not in the Senate during the 116th Congress. HR1480 is vital to address the real need for increased mental health resources within the fire service. The Senate companion bill is to be reintroduced by Sen. Jackie Rosen (D-Nev.) Detecting, Treating, And Preventing Mental Health Challenges Tragic experiences on firefighters and emergency medical responders can lead to psychological injuries and even suicides “Firefighters and emergency medical responders repeatedly witness human trauma and scenes of devastation over the course of their careers,” says IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. “The cumulative toll of tragic experiences on firefighters and emergency medical responders can lead to psychological injuries and even suicides,” he adds. “The HERO Act will help ensure emergency responders receive necessary resources to assist in detecting, treating, and preventing mental health challenges,” says Schaitberger. IAFF’s Commitment IAFF, a labor union representing paid full-time firefighters and emergency medical services personnel in the United States and Canada, has served as a leader in mental health and wellness. The HERO Act bolsters the IAFF commitment in four ways. Establishes a new grant program to train firefighters and peer counselors Directs the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop new guidance for fire departments on identifying and preventing post-traumatic stress disorder Directs the CDC to provide information to mental health professionals on the culture within fire departments and evidence-based therapies to treat psychological issues common to firefighters Creates a database to compile statistics on suicide among public safety officers Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) Up to one-third of firefighters and emergency medical responders will demonstrate some or all of the criteria used to diagnose Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). The rates of diagnosed PTS among firefighters and emergency medical responders vary due to inconsistencies in data collection; however, reported rates are between 16% and 37%. Peer-support behavioral health and wellness programs within fire departments will allow trained peer counselors to conduct outreach to firefighters and their families to assist with issues associated with PTS, substance abuse, and co-related conditions. Database And Guidance Establishing a specialized database to capture incidences of suicide among firefighters and other public safety officers will provide scientists information to examine PTS more fully and to understand broader mental health concerns. New guidance for departments will provide education on how to better identify and prevent PTS and co-occurring disorders in public safety officers. Meanwhile, new resources for mental health providers will promote understanding of the culture of fire departments and evidence-based therapies for common mental health issues.
As the COVID-19 pandemic affects communities across the United States, it has also impacted in-person fundraising for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). For 66 years, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) has collected critical funds in the community, one dollar at a time, as part of the ‘Fill the Boot’ program. This summer, the program will launch virtually to address social distancing guidelines for the firefighters and the vulnerable community MDA serves. IAFF’s ‘Fill the Boot’ virtual program This summer, IAFF’s ‘Fill the Boot’ program will be conducted virtually with the donations helping meet the urgent need for MDA's Frontline COVID-19 Emergency Fund to continue services for more than 250,000 people living with neuromuscular diseases across the country. For six decades, IAFF members have been at intersections across America with their fire boots to collect donations for MDA" "For six decades, IAFF members have been at intersections across America with their fire boots to collect donations for MDA," said the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) General President, Harold Schaitberger. IAFF funding and support for MDA He adds, "But with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing rules enforced make physical collection of donations impossible. However, Virtual Fill the Boot will let our members continue to collect to help MDA meet their vital mission of finding treatment and cures for muscular dystrophy, ALS and other neuromuscular diseases." "IAFF members display an unwavering support for MDA year after year, raising critical funds and awareness to help our families get the care they need," said Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and President, Lynn O'Connor Vos. He adds, "We are so thankful to the IAFF for continuing its commitment to cure neuromuscular disease and for the flexibility to go virtual this year through this pandemic, so as to protect everyone on the frontlines in our communities."