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Phoenix firefighters spark creation of mental health recovery center

(Twitter/@Ali_Vetnar)

PHOENIX — After multiple Phoenix firefighters committed suicide back in 2010, their union realized the first responders lacked support for mental health issues.

Phoenix Fire Capt. Ray Maione, vice president of United Phoenix Firefighters, Local 493, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Friday that the group had to “figure out what was missing with support for our members’ mental health.”

Maione said the union, which represents Phoenix, Glendale, Chandler, Tempe, Peoria, and Surprise firefighters, created a task force.

The task force consisted of counselors who went on ride-alongs and spent time inside the station to get an understanding of what firefighters face on a daily basis.

“When we first created our own network of counselors that could treat (post-traumatic stress disorder), we had a lot of success,” Maione said.

“Then the International Fire Fighters Association realized these problems were happening not just in Phoenix, but throughout the country’s fire service.”

The association, which aims to help members recover from post-traumatic stress and co-occurring addictions, came to the Phoenix Fire Department for insight on how to face those issues.

That insight sparked the creation of the IAFF Center for Excellence, a 15-acre facility in Maryland.

“It’s a PTSD, substance-abuse type of facility, specializing in public safety, specifically for union firefighters,” Maione said.

The center is set up in a way to make the members feel comfortable just as if they were in their own firehouse and offers a range of services to encourage physical activity and mental clarity.

It also includes amenities such as a fully equipped gym, a recreation room, outdoor volleyball court, outdoor walking trails and yoga therapy.

Valley firefighters have to be in the union to be eligible to be sent to the center, and have to be dealing with some type of post-traumatic stress disorder, post-traumatic stress injury or substance abuse.

“Almost all of the substance abuse in the fire service is job-related,” Maione said.

“For example, an injury not being properly treated resulting in a fire member getting addicted to opioids and other pain medicine.”

Some Phoenix firefighters have even attended the center, the department confirmed.

“Part of our program and its success is that it is very confidential. We have had members go,” Maione said.

“But the members from Phoenix that have gone there are very successful when they come back.”

Maione said if any union members from the Valley are admitted to the center, he keeps up with their progress through the professionals in Maryland.

“It’s a very tough process to send someone there,” he added. “But it is extremely relative to what we do in the fire service and it allows our members to heal and get back on the trucks.”

Any members of the fire service who believe they need help can contact 855-285-0962 to get help.

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