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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Firefighters to be certified as mental health first responders

Puerto Rico Firefighters Bureau Commissioner Marcos Concepción Tirado

By The Star Staff

As part of the public policy efforts promoted by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia aimed at communities prioritizing their mental health and accessing available support programs, the Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration (ASSMCA by its Spanish initials) and the Puerto Rico Firefighters Bureau have established an agreement to certify the island’s firefighters as first responders in psychological first aid.

As part of the initiative, first the firefighters who are part of the new academy will be certified, followed by bureau members in the six zones of the island.

When making the announcement, ASSMCA Administrator Dr. Carlos Rodríguez Mateo noted that with the agreement he seeks to provide tools to firefighters to strengthen their emotional health and acquire basic knowledge to handle the various scenarios to which they are exposed in emergencies and catastrophes.

“Prioritizing mental health and suicide prevention on our island is an issue that we are working on in the ASSMCA as a health public policy, directly in the communities, because it is in them that the citizen is born, grows and develops daily,” Rodríguez Mateo said. “To the extent that we strengthen the mental health of communities, we strengthen the health of the people. By the nature of their work, firefighters are exposed to community scenarios of high stress, loss and pain. So, through this project, we seek to provide them with tools so that they can manage that encounter with the affected people, channel the help they need to them, and also so that they can manage and strengthen their mental health, as well as that of their family.”

Firefighters Bureau Commissioner Marcos Concepción Tirado stressed that “our priority in the Bureau is to provide firefighters with the necessary tools to respond to any emergency situation.”

“I appreciate and recognize the commitment of the ASSMCA, which will train new firefighters in the management of emotions to attend to crisis situations in the middle of the scene [of a disaster or other crisis] and channel help to a health professional.”

The fire chief added that once the initial training is completed, all firefighters in the bureau’s six zones will have been impacted.

The training required to become psychological first aid responders includes meeting contact hours in workshops that are structured under ASSMCA’s Psychological Strengths and First Aid Module. It is a module focused on behavior and the management of emotions in which emphasis is placed on the proper channeling of traumatic events and does not replace the intervention of a mental health professional, such as a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. Its objective is that the personnel who are trained have the necessary tools to mitigate crisis situations until the time comes when the affected person or people can have access to the professional help they need, including ASSMCA programs, to address different addictions.

The Psychological First Aid project is part of a series of ASSMCA programs focused on prevention and treatment, which promote education about mental health, the importance of its care, and seeking help and treatment when problems are identified or a diagnosis is made. Other agency programs that promote direct services in communities are: ASSMCA Visits Your School, Project Hope, ASSMCA Visits Your Community, among others.

Those interested in becoming certified as Psychological First Aid responders can call 787-763-3133.

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