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Local peer support crews added to the frontline of firefighting and response efforts

MONTECITO, Calif. - The Santa Barbara County Fire Chiefs are as committed to the wellness of their frontline responders as they are to every call for service, saying that they go hand in hand.

A relatively new team of peer support firefighters have been trained to respond to the needs of first responders who have dealt with serious calls and traumatic incidents.

Chief Kevin Taylor with the Montecito Fire Department says the counseling is available in a confidential way on multiple levels.

"It's a safe spot for our staff knowing it helps them feel comfortable doing it without any repercussions. In addition, to be physically healthy they need to be mental and spiritually healthy and that is very important for them to have longevity in the position," said Taylor.

On the response team is Montecito Fire Captain Daniel Arnold. "We can act as peer supporters, relate to the calls, and sometimes provide immediate assistance and help."

It starts with a listening session.

"We can then determine when it is beyond our control, beyond our help, and refer to those patients to clinicians and outside help," said Arnold.

Already they are seeing a significant difference in the lives of the responders at work and home.

"Sometimes we bring things from home to work, and the things from work to home, and we just want to make sure we are healthy holistic people," said Arnold.

And after they retire, the services are still available, knowing that the memories of all the years of emergency calls, some of them extremely traumatic, still exist.

Taylor said, "What's new in the profession when they step off the engine and retire we want them to still be 100 percent mental physical and spiritually intact"  

Taylor says the physical and mental wellness of a firefighter is essential and peer support is now an added asset.

Currently, several firefighters both active and retired are in Florida offering peer support to the frontline responders working on the recent devastating multi-story condo complex. It has multiple fatalities.

One of the responders is Tony Pighetti who recently retired from Santa Barbara City Fire and he leads the regional team on the ground now in Florida. It also includes representatives from the Oxnard Fire Department.

In Santa Barbara County, 67 firefighters have the training.

This area has experienced many mass casualties calls for service over the last 25 years including the Montecito mudflow, the La Conchita mudslides, the Conception boat disaster and the Isla Vista attacks.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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