OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma Senator Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, filed a bill Wednesday that would make mental health wellness training for first responders mandatory to earn a peace officer certification.
Senate Bill 379 would require eight hours of mental and behavioral health wellness training as part of the certification. It would also incorporate a continuing education requirement.
“I want to address it from the employer’s position and make sure that these professionals are fully trained to take care of themselves,” said Daniels.
Daniels said the job merits making sure first responders can take care of themselves.
At Fire Station 25 in Oklahoma City, fighting fires for the men and women who work there is less than 10 percent of the job.
Around 70 percent of the calls that come in are medical emergencies, which means most times firefighters are the first on the scene.
“We see so much stuff that the human body is not supposed to see,” said Battalion Chief Russell Huffman.
Huffman has been with the Oklahoma City Fire Department for 23 years.
He has been a part of Station 25’s peer support team since 2016, a program offered through the employee assistance program.
He said it has been a challenge to change the culture, that asking for help is ok.
“It was a stigma. We were the tough guys,” said Huffman. “We’re the big strong people. We show up, we help people, and we don’t have the weaknesses.”
Huffman said in recent years, reaching out for mental wellness help has become more common place.
Yet, Daniels said more should be done to strengthen first responder’s mental well-being beyond what’s being done already.
“If we are going to offer the resources to treat them, which the taxpayers do now, let’s train them to look after their mental health,” said Daniels. “Before we even certify them as an officer and then each year do that as part of their continuing education.”
Huffman said, knowing from experience, every opportunity to keep first responders safe will help.
“I think any time you can educate people, it’s a benefit,” said Huffman.
The Oklahoma City Fire Department has also hired a social worker to help with mental health for the entire department. The budget for the hire was approved by the city council last year.