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Supporting Our Departments in 2023

The Weakest Link: Recognizing PTSD

By: Caroline Godin

Mental health concerns continue to rise. We need to create resilience instead of just coping. When leadership builds stronger first responders, they can withstand trauma with less intervention and less time off.

To get there, leadership needs to implement the best ways of supporting our departments. Here are some strategies that could be implemented in your department to boost morale and build resilience.


The number one thing that creates mistrust is when responders feel leadership isn’t communicating. There are times leaders cannot share, but this should be communicated. “We have items happening we can’t share yet. We will share them as soon as they’re in place,” or, “I’m sorry, I can’t discuss that as it’s private to that person. I respect your privacy as well.”

The worst thing a leader can do is lie or make excuses. Responders recognize dishonesty. The best policy is to be open with communication from the start.

Regular Check-ins

Checking in with responders regularly shows your interest in their well-being. You create trust and support. This may not seem like much, but when things get hard, trauma hits, or a responder suffers personally, it will be easier to recognize.

Seeing the need for support sooner means you can reach out sooner before the person begins to close off from others. In time, sharing and supporting becomes second nature and morale grows.

Leadership Availability

It goes hand in hand with communication that leadership should be available. When a responder knows leadership is available, it’s easier to feel supported and know that any concerns will be heard.

Whether those hours are set, or the response timeframe is clear, having a rule on one’s availability helps set the tone of support to staff. It sends a message that, while you have a personal life, you are available for your people when they need you. Boundaries are encouraged, but sending a message that you are there is equally important.

Space for Decompression

First responders need to decompress. A lounge, a kitchen, a gym… Every department should have a space. This should be accessible to all responders at all times the department is open. If a responder needs to show up to work out in the gym on an off day, this is a safe and available space to do so.

A gym is recommended for fitness benefits, but a lounge with some games or a kitchen works too. As long as the space has enough seating or areas to accommodate responders who want to be apart for a while or do their own thing to decompress.

Practice What You Preach

You were once the low guy. Show them you’re one of them. You’re not some desk jockey calling the shots and sitting back. You know the job. You talk to others and don’t isolate. You need to decompress too. You show up, check-in, and care… you’re one of them.

When it’s clear leadership is doing all the things demanded of the rest of the department, the rest of the department is more likely to follow. Be an example.

Professional Development

Have you asked a responder what you, as their leader, can do to help them? If so, you’re doing it right. Not everyone wants to move up the ladder, but knowing that your superior is willing to help you is encouraging and builds morale.

Maybe someone needs more training or is recovering from an injury. Maybe someone is looking for con-ed. When leadership is actively looking to improve not only the department as a whole but also each individual, the entire department benefits.

Responders are struggling to meet many expectations. Leaders can help build resilience. First responding is a hard life and trauma is around every corner. Let’s find more ways to support one another and grow stronger together.

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