For the men and women on the frontlines of our communities, health and wellness can often take a back seat. But with higher rates of depression, PTSD, burnout and anxiety, first responders around the country are already facing struggles that can take its toll both mentally and physically over time.
For law enforcement, there is a more than 20-year difference in life expectancy compared to the average American male and it’s estimated that 20 to 25% of all first responders experience post-traumatic stress. These are just a few numbers that paint a sobering picture of responder health and wellness. However, community support for these challenges is possible.
As public safety’s partner, FirstNet, Built with AT&T feels that it is our duty to give first responders the tools that ensure they are able to do their job. Whether that is through our communications technology and deployable assets or with health and wellness resources. Nearly two years ago, leadership at FirstNet came together to commit to supporting our first responders both on and off the frontlines by establishing the FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition (FNHWC). Since then, we have been able to work alongside therapists, nonprofits, first responders, public safety organizations and other experts to create wellness goals and establish resources for the community that keeps us safe.
Now with 24 members representing more than 5.1 million first responders across the country, we are focused on priorities that support the holistic health of first responders, targeting key areas like post-traumatic stress, suicide prevention, physical fitness, stress management, resiliency and leadership engagement.
Health and Wellness Training Programs
To help meet these wellness goals, we expanded our work with the FNHWC this year by collaborating with several nonprofits that provide trainings to help first responders develop mental health strategies and skills.
This year we were announced as the exclusive sponsor of the Boulder Crest Foundation’s Struggle Well program. Delivering posttraumatic growth-based programs to first responders, Boulder Crest blends a variety of wellness practices that help participants thrive during and after their careers. Through these trainings Boulder Crest has seen a 51% improvement in the posttraumatic growth inventory (PTGI) helping to chip away at the overall crisis.
We also committed this year to several other organizations that make a difference with first responders and provide important skills that can be used in their daily lives:
- First H.E.L.P. provides communities across the country with world-class mental health training through their #ResponderReadiness Workshop series and provides first responders in under-funded, rural communities important mental health trainings at no cost.
- O2X Human Performance provides a unique program that brings health, wellness and resilience training workshops to first responders and public safety officials across the country and teaches participants how small, incremental changes can lead to lifestyle improvements.
- All Clear Foundation’s ResponderStrong Mental Health Curriculum provides first responders with foundational knowledge of response mental health, including stress, stress injury, suicidality and resiliency.
In 2022, nearly 12,000 first responders were able to attend trainings hosted by these organizations with our support. We are proud to work alongside these mental health professionals and bring meaningful change to this community.
ROG the Dog
In the first two years of our ROG the Dog animal assisted therapy program, the fleet of more than 30 trained labradoodles have been deployed to wildfires, mass shootings, hurricanes and at the sites of other tragedies that have the potential to weigh on the minds of our responders.
Studies have shown that interacting with animals can improve coping and recovery, enhance morale, decrease stress, and reduce the effects of PTSD and emotional distress. Specializing in animal assisted therapy for first responders, these heroic dogs have comforted and bonded with our law enforcement, EMS and firefighters as they face disasters head on.
In 2022 alone, ROG the Dog was deployed more than 50 times to both planned events and critical incident responses. Affectionately named after our Response Operations Group (ROG), ROG the Dog is a collaboration between FirstNet and Global Medical Response (GMR) and can be requested by agencies on FirstNet at no additional charge.
After a tragedy in Wake County, North Carolina, local first responders were visited by Dex and Charley, two of the dogs in the ROG the Dog program.
“ROG the Dog’s visit during a difficult time for our county’s first responders was greatly appreciated,” said Benjamin Currie, District Chief of the Advanced Practice Paramedic Program in Wake County. “The support and comfort provided by the dog was truly meaningful for our responders. We are incredibly thankful for FirstNet and GMR’s collaboration and providing us resources on the ground to help our first responders cope.”
Health and Wellness Resources
Beyond our trainings and programs, the FNHWC is committed to providing resources to our first responders and sponsoring initiatives that continue important discussions.
A part of this includes our FirstNet app catalog, which has mental health apps designed to help first responders experiencing mental health distress and engage with others in addressing social support. With Lighthouse Health and Wellness, first responder agencies can create a custom (and free) app with tailored health and wellness programs, trainings and resources to support any public safety agency on their mobile devices.
Recently, we announced our sponsorship of Foundation 1023 to help support the organization’s emotional wellbeing campaign that focuses on the mental health of children and families of first responders. The foundation developed and published a children’s book called “The Wolf was Not Sleeping” that tells the story of a wolf cub, who finds it hard to sleep because of his dad’s job as a first responder. Examining mental health in a way that’s easy for children to understand, the book opens conversations for first responders and their families and begins a dialogue.
To continue these conversations for first responders and their loved ones, we’ve also sponsored resources and events that bring first responders together and open people’s eyes to the full weight public safety must carry, including:
- Documentaries like Into the Unknown: The Paramedics Journey and Lift the Mask—First Responders Sound the Alarm by The Quell Foundation
- Conferences like the IACP Officer Safety and Wellness Symposium and 1st Responder Conferences
- The NAEMT Mental Health Resiliency Officer Training Course
- Summits like the Boulder Crest Foundation for Posttraumatic Growth Summit and the Public Safety Task Force Summit with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
FirstNet is built with and for first responders and the broader public safety community. Providing public safety with truly dedicated coverage and capacity when they need it, unique benefits like always-on priority and preemption for first responders, and high-quality Band 14 spectrum, FirstNet helps fire, EMS, healthcare workers and law enforcement save lives and protect their communities.
We are proud to be a small part in our emergency responders’ health and wellness journey, and as we go into our third year with the coalition, we look forward to continuing to serve those who serve our communities.
Anna Courie is director of Responder Wellness for FirstNet, Built with AT&T.