Fire/EMS Helpline: You Are Not Alone

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) asked Fire/EMS Helpline co-founder Mike Healy of American Addiction Centers about the Helpline, why it was started, and what firefighters, EMTs, and their families can expect if they call.

Mike Healy, co-founder of the Fire/EMS Helpline

Who will answer when a first responder makes a call to the Helpline?

The Helpline will be answered by either me or Mike Blackburn. We are both credentialed EAPs (Employee Assistance Professionals) with over 30 years experience in the fire service.

Why did you get involved in the Helpline?

I retired as the clinical director of the NYC Transit Assistance Program in 2008 and have known for years the need for a behavioral health program for firefighters. I also have over 40 years in the volunteer fire service. Mike Blackburn retired from Providence (RI) Fire Department where he started the PFD Members Assistance Program in the mid 1990s.

What kind of questions will a caller be asked?

Naturally we have to get to the root of the problem. Last names or departments are not necessary but the focus has to be on the problem by listening to the symptoms. Complete confidentiality is of utmost importance. We both know the questions to ask and the best course of action to follow. All decisions on treatment are left to the caller.

Can callers remain anonymous?

It can be 100 percent anonymous or not. It’s up to the caller.

Will the caller’s department find out they called?

We have no reason to contact your department and it is not a requirement to tell us where you belong as a member.

What types of issues does the Helpline address?

Behavioral health issues cover every possible issue. This includes PTSD, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, to name a few.

When is the Helpline available?

The hotline is available 24/7. Every call is important to us.

What types of resources will the Helpline counselor provide?

Depending on the nature of the problem we can deal with suggestions for any type of problem. Referrals to in-patient substance abuse facilities, local outpatient facilities, local PTSD-certified therapists, etc.

What happens after a call?

Any decisions are yours to decide. We may offer you choices that you can make to make your life better. We do not offer treatment as much as point the caller in a direction that they may find a solution to help their situation. This may be a referral to local resources to help with your specific problem, or you can be admitted to one of our treatment facilities where there are licensed counselors trained in the fire service culture. If treatment is needed, we work with your insurance to make sure there is no cost to you.

Anything else you’d like to tell a potential caller?

After receiving thousands of calls on the Helpline I can assure you that whatever your problem is you are not the only person experiencing it. We have a history in the fire service of acting strong while crumbling inside. If you are suffering, make the call. Nobody will judge you or make you do anything you don’t want to. All the decisions are left to you.

Note: If you need help, call the Fire/EMS Helpline at 1-888-731-FIRE (3473).

* This article is reprinted from the NVFC Helpletter.