FDIC By the Numbers
Recently, JEMS (Journal of Emergency Medical Services) joined with FDIC International (Fire Department Instructors Conference). The conference provides various training sessions (including hands-on training), presentations, and support to the EMS and Firefighting worlds. Over the 7-day event, classes and presentations were offered Monday through Friday to over 30 thousand participants. Over 800 exhibitors displayed products and offered services through Saturday.
First Responder Coaching made its debut at the major event this year. Attending for FRC was Jennifer Anderson (FRC CEO), Keith Hanks (Director of Business Development), Audrey LaBrie (administrator), and coaches Steph Rubel, Jackie Miller-Hupp. FRC gave out about 1,500 brochures and took in over 500 surveys. (A survey earned a participant a swag bag from FRC.) The big eye-catcher at the FRC booth was the flag. Participants could win the flag by drawing if they put their business card into the bowl. The shocker? FRC was one of only 4 mental health booths amidst hundreds of vendor booths.
Keith comments, “[There was] not enough support post-pandemic, [they’re] still behind times.” In a post-pandemic world, the need for mental health resources has only escalated and departments (who are at least acknowledging this) are scrambling and scratching their heads to find them.
During an FDIC debrief over Zoom, Jen agreed. She shared the vastness of vendors and was incredulous over the lack of mental health support in the large venue. They did come away with loads of connections and conversations. Jen and Keith feel they spoke with about 300 people a day just in direct conversation let alone those listening nearby. They estimate that Thursday and Friday may have seen 400-500 people at the booth each day.
“Once people heard that we are first responders and family ourselves,” Jen notes, “the walls came down and they just started talking.” She tells about one woman in her twenties in the fire department who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She had disclosed her situation to her department only to be ‘iced.’ The department put her on desk duty and treated her coldly. She was distraught by the reaction.
Reactions and Connections
A firefighter from South Dakota spoke with Keith about his retirement 3 years ago. He had had a rough time at the end of his career and found no support and no goodbyes as he left. Now with mental health issues on the rise, he’s being asked to come back and lead peer support groups. Some departments have been coming around to realizing the need. Still many more are, as Keith says, ‘behind the times.’
One refreshing connection the team made was with World Wide Peer Support, a group that offers support to EMS and fire personnel across the world. They came to the FRC booth looking to train their peer support team. They had received a grant for training 3 of their team members. Jen and Keith are working with their group to secure a plan to help.
So many came to the FRC booth.Some came out of curiosity, looking for help, or seeking information for their departments. All who came seemed impressed, having never encountered coaching as a support mechanism. The team received captains, chiefs, trainers, fire marshalls, a director of business development for a recovery center and more. Participants were from all over, as far south as Brazil and as far north as Canada. One thing everyone had in common was the many levels of mental stress and even trauma that comes with first responder life. Seeing a resource seeking to smash the mental health stigma in a new way was refreshing.
Over the many conversations, eyes were opened on both sides of the booth. FRC got to see just how wide-spread the need for support was, even more than expected, and how lacking resources truly are. Participants were introduced to a resource they hadn’t thought of before. Their curiosity piqued when they heard that our coaches are from first responder life. Barriers came down as conversations ensued. Doors opened and information was shared.
Keith shares his thoughts on the whole event. “The biggest take away from FDIC for me was the lack of other mental health/wellness resources and speakers/training. This thought was shared by many I spoke with or overheard. The other part I found interesting and wasn’t expecting was how open most were to what coaching could do for them and/or their families. Especially after it was established that FRC was made up of first responders and their families as far as coaches go.”
Jen shared with the group that FRC is already booked for next year’s FDIC event. We will host a booth in the same location. “We hope people will come to recognize us and even expect us there in the future. There’s a lot of work to be done,” the CEO tells us. FRC is also booked with Fire Safety News, a publication distributed daily during the FDIC event sharing products, company profiles, and the latest fire industry stories. More events are being planned for FRC, including something new in the fall, so stay tuned for news on that!