IAFF Center of Excellence: Helping Transform the Fire Service

Author: IAFF Staff

February 5, 2020

Since opening in March 2017, the IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery has treated more than 1,100 IAFF members struggling with mental health problems and addiction. Each member’s decision to get help not only starts their individual journey to recovery but can have a lasting impact on the surrounding family, department, community and culture.

1. Fire fighters are getting help for the first time.

A significant number of fire and EMS personnel admitted to the IAFF Center of Excellence are seeking treatment for the first time – in some cases, after years of suffering in silence. 

In a 2019 follow-up survey conducted one month after discharge from the Center, 54 percent of members treated reported they would not or probably would not have sought treatment without a facility exclusively for IAFF members (IAFF Center of Excellence Discharge Survey, January 2020).

Members seeking treatment at the Center of Excellence know they will be embraced by a brotherhood and sisterhood that understands life in the fire service. 

Fire fighter uniforms hanging up in cubbies

2. Center of Excellence alumni become mental health advocates in their communities.

Following treatment at the Center of Excellence, many members leave feeling restored, refocused and energized to share an important message with their brothers and sisters: Recovery is possible, and you are not alone.

While program graduates are strongly encouraged to focus on their continued recovery as the top priority in the first year after discharge, many alumni are using their recovery experience as a stepping stone to become involved in their local peer support team, wellness committee and other initiatives to help increase behavioral health awareness. 

Consider how the experiences of these four Center of Excellence alumni in recovery are having an impact in their community: 

Alumni richard stack with a service dog in a firehouse

(Alumni Richard Stack featured here with his service dog) 

3. Affiliates are taking a closer look at behavioral health insurance coverage and programing.

As more fire departments recognize the value of treatment and rehabilitation, some are surprised to learn they have little-to-no behavioral health coverage for members to seek treatment at the Center of Excellence or other facility. If insurance doesn’t cover basic behavioral health services, such as outpatient counseling, family therapy, addiction treatment and inpatient behavioral healthcare, a member in crisis could be left with very few options to get help.

The decision to invest in quality and comprehensive behavioral health coverage has been a major focus in the fire service occupational health arena in recent years.

Closer scrutiny of behavioral health insurance coverage has also helped lay the groundwork for advances in state and provincial presumptive laws for workers’ compensation to cover post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In 2019 alone, five additional states and one province passed PTSD legislation, for a total of nine states and eight Canadian provinces with PTSD laws.

Thanks to these advances, when a fire fighter is diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the job, the law is now on their side to help recover lost wages and pay for treatment. 

Color-coded map of ptsd benefits across the country

The IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery

is a comprehensive treatment center exclusively for IAFF members struggling with addiction, PTSD and other co-occurring behavioral health issues. Call today for a no-obligation free and confidential screening for you or a loved one: (844) 273-1550.

Lauren Kosc, M.A., LCPC is a behavioral health specialist, clinician and blog writer for the International Association of Fire Fighters. If you are an IAFF member in recovery and want to share your story, contact [email protected].

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