On a recent trip to Baltimore, I was fortunate enough to participate in the National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation’s planning meeting as they develop a guide for behavioral wellness for fire departments. It’s exciting to see that some of the source materials they are using come from the NFPA 1500 series of standards. While at the meetings, we received a presentation from the Denver Fire Department about their “Total Wellness Program.” This program looks at firefighting not as just any other profession, but rather as individuals who are high performance athletes and who need constant maintenance of their minds and bodies to be able to handle the stress and rigors of the job.
The Denver program has a variety of services available to department members. They can choose to see one of dozens of therapists who have agreed to work with first responders and have taken the time to ride along in order to understand the toll of the job on one’s mind and body (a couple are even former first responders). They can see wellness and performance coaches who help them with making healthy choices and give them tips on how to keep their minds engaged. They use nutritionists to make sure they are eating right and their bodies are fueled appropriately. Denver even hired two full time physical therapists to work with both injured and non-injured members to ensure they stay fit and healthy. The coolest part is the medical care; they are using orthopedists that specialize in caring for professional athletes to provide care to injured members. These specialists have greatly increased the speed in which injured members are imaged and receive procedures, thus they are back on the job faster.
Another great feature is that the program isn’t just for department members; their significant others and families participate as well. They are part of a message group, have separate meetings with clinicians, do group events such as fund raisers and exercise classes, and are a part of all department sponsored functions. The idea to include families came a department funeral where the Chief asked the wives to sit with their husbands. Instead of a sea of blue with the significant others excluded to the back of the church, they were together, this proved to be a huge success with many saying they felt a part of the family and wanting to be more involved. The DFD estimates that for every dollar they have spent on the program, they have saved three dollars in what they would have lost on the various leave types for employees. They also have seen a 42% reduction in annual workman’s comp costs.
Learning about this program made me think to my time working on the streets. As we look at Part 2 of this series, please comment on your experiences in your careers and whether a program like the one described above would help you or your departments. Let us know what steps you are taking to improve wellness and what needs to change. Next week we will talk about some of the concepts you recommend and will present some of the recommendations from the NFFF meeting and workshops.