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Tucson Fire and regional partners come together for first dedicated Health and Wellness summit

First-of-its-kind meeting hosts agencies across Southern Arizona, so workers can find supports for therapy, gyms and advisors
Posted at 9:55 AM, Apr 11, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) -- — Tucson Fire Department and its regional partners are hosting a first-of-its-kind summit focusing on the mental health of first responders of all stripes.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did a study; researchers from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found 3 out of every 10 first responders in the U.S. may develop depression or post-traumatic stress disorders in their careers.

The Good Morning Tucson team stopped by Tucson Fire's central station downtown, to learn why this meeting, the First Responder Health & Wellness Day, is so important in allowing those answering our community's critical calls to talk about their mental health and get the help they may need.

At Fire Central, crews come to the gym to get in a quick workout. They may also run into Capt. Tyler Berndt. "Sometimes I will even just come in here and talk to who's in here," Berndt said. "(We) have a conversation and just see how their day's going, and sometimes it's a good destresser for me even if I'm not in my workout clothes."

As TFD's safety and wellness coordinator, Berndt wants to make sure his colleagues go home feeling as mentally and physically well as possible.

"We always joke about the firehouse coffee table," he said. "There's so much value in the camaraderie, whether it's a bad call after a bad night or even someone's going through something in their personal life. You really can't put a price on that."

That passion fueled Berndt and his friends, like Rio Rico Fire senior adviser Frank Granados, to set up the Health & Wellness Day summit at the Tucson Convention Center, where first responders from more than 25 regional agencies can connect with each other.

"I want everyone to have a fun day, network, and get to know people," Berndt said, "so six months down the road, maybe someone's having a tough time and they remember, "I met so-and-so at the conference, I'm going to give them a call.'"

Granados, who worked for Tucson Fire for 30 years, is now a mentor making those phone calls to younger firefighters. He said two years of therapy have helped him unpack the trauma he was carrying from his 40-plus-year career. "(I) thought I was superman, thought I could handle everything," Granados said, "until I retired and had time to reflect and then I realized that what I was resisting was persisting."

Granados said those small steps do make a difference. Starting this year, Granados said doctors who help Rio Rico firefighters get their annual physical and mental checkups will ask more specific questions about how they're processing that trauma.
"Now what we're doing is, the doctor will actually talk to the firefighter and say, 'In the last year, have you had any significant calls that have caused you to lose sleep, to think about it and avoid certain situations?'"

When one department finds an idea that works, Berndt said he thinks working together will, in turn, make the greater community a healthier place to be. "Why not work with each other on some of this stuff? We're really coming together, no matter what branch."

Even though there is progress, TFD leaders think there's room to add even more resources to help first responders. Berndt said right now, he's looking at starting both a committee and a foundation specifically committed to making sure firefighters, officers and more can work and retire with their physical, mental and financial health intact.

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José Zozaya is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. Before arriving in southern Arizona, José worked in Omaha, Nebraska where he covered issues ranging from local, state and federal elections, to toxic chemical spills, and community programs impacting immigrant families. Share your story ideas and important issues with José by emailing jose.zozaya@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.