March 11, 2019
For two years, the IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery has been providing quality care for IAFF members struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, addiction, depression, anxiety and other behavioral health conditions.
Surrounded by other fire fighters, members treated at the Center form an instant bond, forged on a mutual sacrifice and understanding of life in the fire service.
But they also form relationships with doctors, clinicians and other dedicated staff who help with recovery.
Food director Zachary Pope – known on campus as Chef Zach – offers his perspective on helping the fire fighters and paramedics who put their lives on the line every day helping others.
Pope has a unique connection with members who are treated at the Center. “I, myself, am in recovery, so I identify with these fire fighters,” he says. “I’ve been on their side. But I have never been to an inpatient place that serves the food that I do, and I think that is special and deserving of this group.”
Food is important at the Center of Excellence, he says. “There is a cleansing that goes on when members first get here that includes removing toxins and providing good, clean food — which they may not have had for a while. They may have difficulty eating much at first, but by the end of their stay, they’re devouring everything and enjoying everything. Sitting down at a table around a good meal is therapeutic in and of itself.”
Cooking for IAFF members at the Center of Excellence is more than a job for Pope. “It is a service. And who better to serve than fire fighters? They have helped hundreds of thousands of people. It reminds me what an important job I have and the great sense of responsibility that comes with it because I care about the people who come through here.
His advice to any IAFF member coming to the Center of Excellence for treatment? “This is a place where we care for you. Body, soul, mind. It’s time to put your fears aside. From the meals to the clinical staff — all the components that make this place special — you are going to be well taken care of.”
Designed by fire fighters, for fire fighters, the IAFF Center of Excellence has helped IAFF members find healing and hope in the face of behavioral health difficulties. If you know someone who is struggling, reach out to a representative today. Your call is toll-free and confidential.