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CASPER, Wyo. — On Tuesday, Casper City Council heard updates from the Casper Fire-EMS Department and the Casper Police Department regarding efforts to support the mental health of first responders in the community.
Cameron Siplon, deputy chief of operations and training for Casper Fire-EMS, told City Council that of the variety of support services available to firefighters, a peer support group seems to be used most often. This peer support group is a partnership between Casper Firefighters – IAFF Local 904 and the Casper Fire-EMS department, Siplon said.
The peer support group includes five firefighters who have been trained to act as peer support points of contact for others in the department. Although these five firefighters are not trained as therapists, they act as advocates who can help direct a firefighter to different therapies and resources available to them.
As peers to other firefighters, the five firefighters are able to offer non-judgmental and non-punitive support, Siplon said. He noted that two of the firefighters in particular are highly respected among their peers.
“They’re busy,” Siplon said. “A lot of people like to talk to them because they’re comfortable. … They can refer directly to other available services.
More formal training could help improve the peer support group available to firefighters, Siplon said. In terms of usage, approximately 60% of Casper Fire-EMS employees at least contacted the peer support group when it was created. That percentage is now around 40% of Fire-EMS employees actively using available support, he said.
While the peer support group is probably the most used resource available to Casper firefighters, other services are available, Siplon said. This includes a long-established Employee Family Assistance Program that provides counseling services to city employees. There are also insurance-funded mental health services available to firefighters, Siplon noted.
One of the relatively new resources being rolled out to support City of Casper employees is a Cordico wellness app. Regarding Casper Fire-EMS, Siplon said the app will act as a repository of the various mental health services available to employees. As an app on their phones, Cordico will be able to act as a “one-stop shop” showing the range of services available, he said.
Casper Fire-EMS also recently formed a new wellness team that will assess areas of health and wellness the department addresses and areas it may be lacking.
“We’re just looking at the little things we can do that are missing,” Siplon said.
Siplon is also working on a new therapy dog program. Although it is in the development phase, he said there is a local trainer who is donating training to provide licensed therapy dogs to support Casper firefighters.
Capt. Richard Brown, who leads the Ministry and Mental Health sub-sections of the Casper Police Department, also addressed the city council during its pre-meeting business session on Tuesday.
Brown said he is working on various ways to improve mental health and other forms of support not only for officers, but also for other employees like dispatchers and retired officers. He added that there was a clear need to find ways to provide such support.
“It’s no mystery, three first responder suicides over a one-year period show the definitive need for mental health,” Brown told City Council. “The problem is systemic and it is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.”
Support available to Casper Police Department employees includes a peer support team for both sworn officers and civilian staff, Brown told the city council. Peer support team members were elected by their peers, Brown noted.
There are also counselors, a psychologist, physicians, and clergy who have been identified as able to offer support to Casper PD employees.
Brown is working to identify more counselors and other mental and physical health professionals and which of these professionals in the community are most successful in working with first responders and their families.
Brown credited the work of Shane Harkins, MSW, LCSW for the quality of support he was able to provide not only to the officers themselves, but also to the department as he seeks ways to improve support in sanity it provides.
“Shane Harkins is definitely going to receive an award from the Casper Police Department,” Brown said. “He has done us many favors.”
Brown said his goal is to build a group of advisors that not only Casper PD employees, but also first responders from other agencies in the community can count on for support.
He is also requesting $100,000 for the Casper PD from an available grant to support mental health efforts for first responders and law enforcement. $25,000 of this funding would go to the Casper PD which would host a statewide mental health conference in 2023. The funding would also support trainings and peer support services from multiple professionals.
Brown’s presentation included a range of other information about his efforts to develop a robust mental health support system for Casper PD employees and retirees. The City Council was also scheduled to hear from the City Court about the services available to employees working in this area, but there was not enough time in the pre-meeting business session as the regular meeting was scheduled to begin. at 18 o’clock. Tuesday.
Siplon and Brown’s presentations can be heard near the start of the following video from Tuesday night’s pre-meeting business session and regular city council meeting: