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State News

Peer Support Sessions For First Responders Could Soon Be Confidential By Law

Man sits down next to fire truck.
John Raoux
/
AP Photo

A bill to make peer support more confidential among first responders is heading to the governor's desk.

Lawmakers are hoping to encourage first responders to get help. To do that, they're pushing a bill to make peer support confidential with exceptions. Gary Hester is a retired police chief who works with the Florida Police Chiefs Association. He says the stress first responders deal with can take a toll on them:

"I don't think folks are on a daily basis are designed to deal with [the] death of children and [the] death of adults and violent crime, and vehicle crashes."

First responders can include law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, and more. First responders can develop PTSD, depression, and attempt suicide.

"I think there's a stigma in the first responder community that sometimes they feel like if they reach out for help that it may impact their job. Their career, and it's certainly not the case," Hester says.

Todd Soard is President of the Florida EMS Association. He also supports the bill and welcomes the inclusion of 911 operators for confidential peer support.

"They're the first line of receiving the call and then directing any type of care that can be given, but they're also hearing first-hand what is going on in that call," Soard says.

Under Florida law, 911 operators are not considered first responders, but Soard says they're still involved in the first responder process:

"We're all first responders, and we're all here to help the public, but sometimes, those that are assisting and helping—they also need assistance as well from time to time."

The bill would only apply to first responders who seek out a peer for support. That peer can't be a health care practitioner and must have experience working as or with a first responder regarding physical or emotional conditions associated with the job. This peer must also be designated by the first responder's agency to provide peer support.