Webster’s Dictionary defines “peer” as a person’s equal, colleague, friend, associate and so on.  In the world of emergency services, we are fortunate to have trained peer teams to provide support and counsel to those in need.  On our Peer Team, there are over 60 of us who have received training and whose responsibility it is to be listeners and providers of support for our friends, fellow workers, and their families and to recognize when someone needs to be referred to the clinical side of our Team.  It has been an effective program for over 11 years now and our Lowcountry efforts are bolstered by many others around our state, and other states, that contribute to the mission.

We were blessed in 2007 to have many others from the FDNY Counseling Unit, the National Fallen Firefighters’ Foundation, the South Carolina Firefighters’ Association, and many others who came to help us get started.   I’m not sure anyone knew where it would take us, but we are now at what I believe is a crossroads.   Do we continue our present course or look for improved ways to deliver our services?

The Peer Team concept is tried and true. Many people have been helped. Marriages, careers, and lives have been saved because many have “been there”, attending training, gaining experience, and educating themselves to provide help to those in need as peer team members.  But, is it enough?  As with anything else, we accept the responsibility to continue to refine and develop services that meet the needs of emergency services personnel.  Our Team believes that we must continue to “think outside the box” or, as we say, “live outside the box” constantly researching and refining our programs to encourage people to get help.   After all, there was little to go by in the beginning.  Certainly, we are indebted to all who supported us then but, it is now our responsibility to continue in to the future.

So, we believe it is imperative that we extend this “peer” concept to include all of you who work in the field. Not just those of us who have trained to be peer team members but all who are a part of our emergency services family.  If you work in a firehouse with other firefighters, ride a medic unit with a partner, handle dozens of calls in a 911 Center surrounded by many who do the same job, or respond to life-threatening situations regularly as a police officer, you notice when someone working next to you in not doing well, is agitated, angry, depressed or otherwise distracted because you see them and work with them regularly.  Who better to offer support and a place to vent then someone who “walks the walk and talks the talk”.  Maybe it’s just taking time to listen to someone vent, to share a cup of coffee and to “just be there”.   You all are our eyes and ears so, if the situation calls for it, make a referral to us or to one of our clinicians and we will get the person what they need.   Many times, your intervention may be all the person needs.  Give it a try, and you will be amazed at how mountains can be moved.

I sum this up by saying that the changes in the way we deliver services and support in to the future should include continuing education and training for all of you to break down the stigma of asking for help, to promote the idea that we can do better, and to encourage all to invest in the future of this program.  We can’t rest until asking for help is a regular part of our existence.  Please help us by being the one to make a difference.  Or, at our Brother John Winn would say, “just leave your tracks in someone’s yard.

Stay safe, my friends,

Gerald