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BROWNSBURG, Ind. – The Brownsburg Fire Department is working to provide community resources while helping to address firefighters’ mental health.

A recent study from the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy journal found the nature of firefighters’ work can pose significant risks to their mental health. Firefighters are repeatedly exposed to painful experiences and erratic sleep schedules.

According to data shared by the Addiction Center, up to 29% of firefighters engage in alcohol abuse, and as many as 10% of firefighters may be currently abusing prescription drugs.

The struggles firefighters face are compounded by barriers to seeking help, including stigma and the cost of treatment.

“Firefighters and EMS providers, or they don’t want to be in touch with their own mortality, whether that be on the health side or the mental health side, they don’t want to reach out for help,” said Danny Brock, a health and safety officer for the Brownsburg Fire Department. 

That is why the Brownsburg Fire Department decided to launch a new app geared towards providing resources and other features to help firefighters cope.

The app offers confidential resources to employees, including:

  • Critical Incident 24/7 Contact Number
  • PEER Support Contacts
  • Suicide Risk Reduction
  • Behavioral Health Tools
  • Our EAP
  • Anger Management
  • Insomnia
  • Cancer Support and Education
  • BFT Chaplain Support
  • Marital Support
  • Financial Support
  • Hendricks Regional Health Resources
  • Nutrition
  • Physical Fitness
  • Benefits Links and Apps
  • Local Resources

Brock says there is a generation gap within the department. The newer generation wants answers immediately, while the older generation is starting to understand the importance of mental health and are reaching out.

“We don’t always want to tell each other we’re doing that,” Brock said. “So what the apps going to provide is a is an avenue for anonymous protected research that you can do on your own. It gives you resources into not only mental health but physical, financial, and family health.”

Justin Butts is one of the peer fitness trainers for the Brownsburg Fire Department. Through the app, department employees can reach out to trainers like Butts to find out how they can stay active without injuring themselves.

“Sometimes people don’t even know where to start the questions,” said Butts. We’ll see personnel come through that maybe they have a background of being active, but they don’t have a background of fitness and they hit a certain point where they have to start doing mobility, work, strength, work, stability and things like that to help them on the job and off the job.”

Butts said before the app, there was a barrier for employees that were looking for help with their fitness.

“We have personnel that are employed by the department that I’ve never worked with,” said Butts, “They may not feel comfortable coming to me, who’s essentially a stranger with a blind question. So if they know that I’m a resource, but then they can also prepare themselves in advance, they can watch the videos without doing them they can have a way to come to me with their needs and objectives, and it allows facilitates the conversation for this.”

In October, The Hill reported that little research has been conducted on the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on first responders. However, a national survey of 189 first responders exposed to COVID-19 showed COVID-19 related worry was associated with anxiety, depression, severe alcohol use, and PTSD symptoms.

Brock said coming out of the pandemic, first responders are trying to find what their new normal will be.

“Everything isn’t just about COVID when you come to work. It’s not just about COVID and our COVID prevention initiatives,” said Brock. “We have this level of normalcy, but now it’s trying to find out what normalcy actually looks like after two years of abnormal and with that comes a lot of challenges because we don’t know what 0 looks like. We don’t know what the future holds, and with that comes a lot of different talks that we haven’t had with each other, especially in this office in quite some time.”

Brock says he hopes having the resources first responders need in one place will encourage them to use the resources, bettering their mental health. As they use the app, other departments across the area can take advantage of the work they are doing.

“Knowing that people are talking about it in the fire service, not just Brownsburg, but the fire service as a whole,” said Brock. “There’s very little resistance to it, and there’s been a lot of positivity about the app and the programs that are being put in front of our people so far.”

This is the first app of its kind in central Indiana. It also has resources available to community members including fire safety tips and links for community outreach. You can download the app for free by searching for the Brownsburg Fire Territory App on the Google Play or Apple App store.