By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer, and member of the Fire Service Psychology Association
At the Fire Service Psychology Association (FSPA) we’re working to “bridge the gap between professional psychology and the fire service.” What is that gap? Good question, and here’s the answer.
Think of a river and the water in that river is composed of all the mental health issues and challenges that firefighters and officers face (e.g., post-traumatic stress, alcohol and substance abuse, suicides) after they are exposed to the psychological trauma that accompanies many of the emergency incidents to which they respond daily.
On one riverbank we have those firefighters and officers who need to cross that river to seek assistance in coping with those mental health challenges/problems. On the opposite riverbank are psychologists and other mental health professionals who can provide the mental health services they need. And in between those two riverbanks the river keeps on flowing–just like the mental health challenges facing those firefighters and officers.
Some of those firefighters and officers choose not to even attempt to cross the river because of the stigma associated with fire service members “seeking help” with the problems they are having. Others attempt to cross the river to get help but never make it because they aren’t strong enough swimmers or they don’t have a boat (their fire department doesn’t adequately support their efforts to get help).
And some will make it across the river only to find that they help they sought isn’t there because the psychologists and mental health professionals on the other riverbank don’t have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to help, given the unique fire service culture and the work that firefighters and officers do and the exposures they face daily.
Building the Bridge
If we can build a bridge between those two riverbanks, we will ensure that firefighters and officers who need to cross the river can do so safely, effectively, and efficiently. And when they get to the other side, there will be psychologists and mental health professionals who have the cultural competencies necessary to provide the types of mental health services they need and deserve.
At FSPA, our vision is to create the specialty of fire service psychology, a specialty in the field of psychology that doesn’t currently exist. Law enforcement has its own discipline that’s recognized by the American Psychological Association, but the fire service does not. And that’s a critical piece of that bridge that we are seeking to build.
Our Mission: Develop the scientific study and application of professional psychology to meet the needs of the fire service.
Just as important are things like how wide the river is that needs to be spanned. To determine that, research needs to be completed–like that that we’ve started to see on the topic of firefighters and cancer–regarding what are the mental health risks, how are those risks affecting firefighters, what programs are needed, and how well do those programs work. We’ve got to move beyond what we think are the issues and get to data-driven solutions to identified problems.
Conferences and Networking–How You Can Help
On October 5th and 6th, 2023, FSPA will present its 6th annual conference, hosted by the Atlanta (Ga.) Fire Rescue Department, in Atlanta that will provide an informative and educational opportunity for psychologists and fire service leaders to learn more about how together we can “build that bridge.” And now a few words from our host, Fire Chief Rod Smith of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department:
If you’re a fire service leader, psychologist, or mental health professional, we encourage you to (1) become a member of FSPA and (2) make plans to attend our 2023 Conference. You can do both by visiting our website, Fire Service Psychology Association.
If you’re the leader of an allied fire service organization or company (e.g., manufacturer or vendor of fire apparatus, equipment, or services) we would love to have you as a sponsor for our 2023 conference. Should you choose to do so, we would highlight your sponsorship during conference during breaks, and market your brand and information on our conference webpage and materials. We will have additional information about sponsorship incentives as we approach the conference dates. To learn about the range of sponsorship opportunities currently available, go to: https://www.firepsychology.org/2023-fspa-conference-sponsorship-opportunities/.
Call for Conference Presentations
We have issued a call for presentation proposals from individuals or groups. If you, or a colleague/partner/agency you work with, are interested in presenting at the conference, please use this link to learn more and complete your proposal online at: https://www.firepsychology.org/the-call-for-proposals/.
Together we can “build that bridge.” We hope that you will find the “bridge building” skill that fits best for you and your organization. We hope to see you in Atlanta in October!