Peer Support

First off, let me preface this article to say I believe in both Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) and Peer Support. I have seen CISM work very effectively across the U.S. by numerous fire and EMS organizations. I am though, a firm believer Peer Support teams offer a better option because they are the first line of help for our brothers and sisters on a daily basis. They are specifically trained members who can talk to you, listen to you and can make recommendations on resources. I have seen many CISM teams begin to meld both into one resource and I commend them for their efforts. Under the true model of CISM if I walked into the station and said I just found out my wife was diagnosed with stage four cancer the CISM team would probably not roll out for this situation. With a peer support team member I can talk to someone there in my station if I chose too.


In all of our travels we have met so many peer support team members. I have sat in several peer support team training sessions across the U.S. FBHA makes some recommendations for organizations on some issues regarding what to look for when selecting team members. Remember, these are just recommendations. They will be,and are, different for all organizations. So pick and choose if you needed.

Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance Peer Program Member Selections

Undertaking the project of developing or overseeing a Peer Support Program is a very challenging event. Here are a few items you need to think about in regard to who might be an excellent peer support member.

  • Age is a factor. It is recommended that no one under 25 years old be considered. Many studies have indicated that the younger group is still susceptible to Post Traumatic events.
  • Time on. To truly understand the emotional effects of the job on firefighters/EMS, the candidate should have a recommendation of eight years. Plus, this will allow them to see numerous types of calls that give them a baseline on how firefighters react to certain calls. In addition, to having years on, it creates credibility for all of your department members.
  • Confidentiality. This is the one issue I preach about. A peer support member must abide by the rules of confidentiality to be trusted by others.
  • Communication skills. A peer support member should be able to develop relationships with ease with other members of the department. Along these lines the member needs to be an excellent listener to the FF/EMT who has approached them.
  • Respect. This is a very important item. Your members must walk the line between management and your union/personnel. They need to display respect and dedication to both entities. They will fail if they are too pro union/personnel or pro management.
  • Learning factor. Peer programs meet quite often for educational purposes since it is a dynamic group. Therefore, a member must be eager to learn new approaches as well as be able to attend educational training. The counselor, who oversees the program, typically disperses this training.
  • Peer Support Teams should be members with no major personal issues that they are dealing with themselves. I know it sounds harsh, but someone who is dealing with depression, for example, can’t be advising, listening or guiding others about major issues.
  • Adhere to policies. Members must work within the framework of the policies developed for the Peer Support Group. You can’t have a “rogue” member who doesn’t believe in the policies of the organization. They need to know when to provide resources and make recommendations to seek out help such as counselors, EAPs or chaplains for the firefighters.
  • Peer members shall seek counseling on a bi-annual schedule to ensure that burnout, stress, anxiety or depression does not affect them.

Selection Process

Option 1: Union/Membership selects one-half personnel, department selects one-half.

Option 2: Elected through survey process: Who among your membership would you recommend?

A counselor or mental health professional conducts interview to see if the selected member would be a good Peer Support Team member

So, these are some recommendations for Peer Support Members. Either with PST, CISM teams, counselors, or chaplains, having resources available is a key component for your organization to assist members through behavioral health issues.

Jeff Dill travels the United States and Canada providing workshops to educate firefighters and EMS personnel about behavioral health awareness and suicide prevention. FBHA is the only known organization that collects and validates data on FF/EMT suicides across the United States. In addition, FBHA holds classes for counselors and chaplains to educate them about the fire/EMS culture. In 2011, Dill founded Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA). This organization is a 501(3)(C).

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