With funding from the Alabama Department of Mental Health and strong support from the Professional Fire Fighters of Alabama (PFFA) and the Alabama Fire College, Alabama will be the first state to include peer support counseling training in its fire recruit school training.

“Adding behavioral health and peer support counseling training into the recruit curriculum is groundbreaking work,” said General President Edward Kelly. “Fire fighters in Alabama will be trained to not only recognize the signs and symptoms that someone needs behavioral health assistance, but they will also be equipped to counsel someone who is in crisis. Congratulations to the PFFA, its members, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, and the Alabama Fire College making this possible.”

“We are pleased that the Department of Mental Health and the fire college are working with us to meet this critical need,” said PFFA President Dave Harer. “With more trained peer support counselors, the Alabama First Responder Peer Support Program will be better able to provide behavioral health assistance, including help with substance abuse, critical intervention, and referrals.”

The statewide peer support program has been in development since the PFFA hosted an IAFF Peer Support Training session in Birmingham in 2018. Inspired by the training, Hoover Local 4035 member Toby Rigsby and Pelham Local 5049 member Jim Terrell, with the support of the PFFA, began working with the Alabama Fire College on the program’s infrastructure (e.g., centralizing dispatch, creating a website with program resources and information).

To date, more than 120 PFFA members have been trained in peer support. Training all new fire fighters in peer counseling will help maintain the number of counselors needed to meet the demand for behavioral health services in the fire service.

Similar to the IAFF’s train-the-trainer program, the curriculum will first be given to peer support providers who already have some training. Those trained in the curriculum will then deliver it to the fire recruits.

“The funding from the state’s Department of Mental Health has enabled us to develop, organize, and expand the peer support program more efficiently,” said Rigsby. “Now, all fire fighters in the state will have increased access to counselors who truly understand what it is like to be a fire fighter and the challenges we face.”

The PFFA hopes to soon have a peer support regional director in each of the state’s 10 regions. Those directors will manage a team of counselors in the region able to respond to behavioral health situations at a moment’s notice.

Learn more about the Alabama First Responder Peer Support Program here.