Spike in mental health calls among Illinois first responders

Published: Oct. 29, 2020 at 5:20 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - First responders are there to help in some of the worst moments of our lives, but who’s there to support them when they need help coping with their job?

“The doctors said firefighting is out of the picture,” said Daniel Persinger, Stateline fire department Chaplain.

Persinger dreamed of being a firefighter his entire life.

“In high school, I was doing explorer programs through New Milford and doing ride alongs with Rockford Fire,” Persinger said.

But everything changed in July of 2012 when he was diagnosed with Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, a disease that weakens your muscles

“The diagnosis broke my heart,” Persinger said.

Persinger didn’t let the disease stop him and now works as a chaplain for Stateline fire departments and with Illinois Firefighter Peer Support, an organization that runs a mental health hotline for first responders.

“We are a group of trained firefighters and EMS that are here to help other first responders,” said Tom Howard, executive director of ILFFPS.

Over the first couple of months of the pandemic, the organization didn’t see any more calls than normal. But in the last month, it’s seen a 50% increase in its call volume.

“All that stress is really starting to show itself,” Howard said.

Howard says everyone who works for the group has previously worked with firefighters in some way.

“What we experience as first responders, the trauma that we experience and are exposed to it causes us to feel isolated. So by being there for one another it reduces that isolation and normalizes abnormal situations,” Howard said.

Come January ILFFPS  is expanding its organization to provide a peer support network to law enforcement officers.

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