2nd Alarm Project ensures no hero fights alone; equipping first responders with mental health services

According to the 2nd Alarm Project, each year more U.S. firefighters die from suicide than in the line of duty.
Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 3:13 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - According to the 2nd Alarm Project, each year more U.S. firefighters die from suicide than in the line of duty.

In addition to the daily trauma first responders experience, The Tallahassee Fire Department says 25 percent of its members have been impacted by COVID-19, which has increased the need for mental health services.

This week, The 2nd Alarm Project has supported TFD after the tragic off-duty death on Sunday of Firefighter and Public Information Officer Sarah Cooksey.

Just last week, Cooksey told WCTV’s Michelle Roberts that she was proud to be a part of the 2nd Alarm Project and she connected Roberts with those integral in developing the mental wellness initiative.

Director Dr. Kellie O’Dare helped start the 2nd Alarm Project after growing up in a fire service family.

“I actually have a line of duty death in my family of somebody that I was close with and I’m married to a firefighter. So I see every day the importance of these wellness initiatives, not just on the fire service or first responders, but the family members,” O’Dare said.

In 2019, clinicians and researchers from FAMU and the University of West Florida teamed up with the established TFD Peer Support Group.

“We find when Peer Support is done early and appropriately, it’s more effective than clinical services for some first responders,” O’Dare shared.

TFD Engineer Lance Butler developed the group in 2018 after he was diagnosed with PTSD and it was difficult to find resources.

“It’s incredibly gratifying to be in the role that I’m in and to help others who may be having the same types of experiences,” Butler said.

This year, O’Dare traveled to Surfside to provide support to TFD members working at the collapse site.

“The 2nd Alarm Project has bridged that gap to find support and ensure resources are there when we need it,” Butler said.

O’Dare says agencies they work with locally and across the Panhandle have experienced COVID line of duty deaths in the last 60 days.

The TFD Peer Support Group now has 22 members. O’Dare says first responders have been resilient and the 2nd Alarm Project has received positive feedback.

“One chief told me that we directly helped a member who was having some pretty active suicidal ideations step back from the ledge and that was very fulfilling to hear that,” O’Dare said.

Peer support, education, resources, leadership development and free telehealth counseling is available for all first responders and their families in the following counties: Calhoun, Dixie, Escambia, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Hamilton, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Liberty, Leon, Madison, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Suwanee, Taylor, Wakulla, Walton, and Washington.

For more information visit the 2nd Alarm Project website.

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