TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — A peer support group is serving those who spend their career serving others. 6th Alarm Peer Support has helped dozens of emergency personnel in and around Tippecanoe County.
Talking through the trauma is a stigma that runs deep within the roots of being an emergency service personnel.
“I've got 32 years in the fire service and early on you were pretty much told you were going to see these kinds of things when you signed onto the job so you just need to toughen up, suck it up and that's the way it was,” said Lafayette Assistant Fire Chief Mike Hieatt.
Hieatt is the Executive Director of Sixth Alarm Peer Support. He has seen first hand how that method isn't helpful.
“We were lacking in resources to help firefighters and EMS deal with the trauma and mental health issues that they deal with every day on emergency runs,” said Hieatt.
6th Alarm is modeled on peers helping peers. Right now, 13 peer leaders from various departments in and around Tippecanoe County make up the team. Lafayette Fire Inspector Todd Trent being one of them.
“We're serving because we know what everybody's going through we just need them to get to that safe place,” said Trent.
According to Hieatt, the firefighter, EMS, and police officer suicide rate surpass line-of-duty deaths every year. Hieatt said they've helped at least 40 emergency service personnel since the group launched in 2017.
“I think what the public and the general conception is that when we go to sleep at night that everything that we saw the day before it disappeared and that has burned into our minds for the rest of our lives,” said Trent.
Both peer leaders believe talking through those tough times with people who have been through similar situations is a good way to begin the healing process.
“It's not wrong to feel that way, it's human nature to feel that way and we just want to help them find ways to deal with it so that they don't have to keep it all inside where it causes serious problems down the road,” said Hieatt.
“If you talk about it, it seems like it just relieves so much of that pressure and that stress, anxiety, and fear and all those emotions that are collaborating together,” said Trent.
Various fire stations throughout the state of Indiana have implemented this program. 6th Alarm is working to expand its reach. Leaders are working to add police and dispatch members to the peer leadership team.
Peers connect with each other through the 6th Alarm website and hotline. You can find more information about the 6th Alarm here.