International fire service nonprofits partner to support mental health

Published:  22 July, 2014

The International Fire Relief Mission and Emergency Ministries will work together to address firefighter mental-health stressors in developing countries.

The International Fire Relief Mission and Emergency Ministries signed a service agreement to better assist firefighters, police, and EMS agencies around the world.

The two 501(c)(3) corporations will collaborate to ensure that emergency personnel in developing countries have improved access not only to equipment, but also to the support system necessary to their success.

‘We know all too well how hard it is for emergency responders in the United States to deal with the emotional stress of what they see day in and day out,’ said IFRM President Ron Gruening. ‘Imagine how much more difficult that is for firefighters and medics in developing countries.’

In 2007, IFRM began aiding firefighters in developing nations, which often lack basic equipment such as turnout gear and SCBA. IFRM collects out-of-service and surplus equipment - even apparatus - from fire and EMS agencies across the United States. IFRM sends a team to each recipient country to demonstrate proper use and maintenance of the donated equipment.

‘Providing equipment and training only addresses part of the problem,’ Gruening said. ‘Addressing their mental health makes IFRM's mission more complete by helping the whole responder.’

IFRM has grown exponentially because of global need and overwhelming support from across the US. The organization ha sent missions to 40 countries on five continents and anticipate reaching Africa in 2015. 

Expansion enabled IFRM to discern additional needs in the communities they visited. In particular, emergency workers needed support both on and off scene, including rehabilitation, critical incident debriefing, and counseling for work and life-related issues. In the US, these services are often provided by a chaplaincy.

To supplement their primary mission, Gruening researched non-profits with experience in chaplaincy as potential collaborators. He identified Emergency Ministries as the organization whose business model and mission best-matched IFRM’s.

Skip Straus, CEO of EM, welcomed the opportunity to give their mission a global reach. EM chaplains are specifically trained to respond to the needs of first responders on-scene and behind the scene. Each chaplain comes from the ranks of emergency workers, has worn the badge, and understands emergency operations and the stresses of the job.

While they emphasize critical-incident stress debriefing, they offer a range of services without regard to religious affiliation (or lack thereof). Their mission is to come alongside first responders who experience extraordinary human events daily and to offer them emotional and spiritual support services.’

Established in 1998, EM has developed a training curriculum and credentialing process adaptable to meet needs abroad. Straus notes that even before beginning their conversation with IFRM, emergency workers from 16 different countries had contacted EM for advice or assistance. Now EM has a platform for providing this aid.

EMI chaplains will join the IFRM team to provide community members with instruction in counseling and other support services. They anticipate their first joint mission will visit the Caribbean later this year.

‘Our hope,”’said Gruening, ‘is that our clients will now have both the material support they need and the ability to retain and protect their essential human resources.’

About the International Fire Relief Mission

IFRM is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization who's mission is to collect donated new and used fire and EMS equipment, deliver it to fire departments in developing nations and educate members of those fire departments on the equipment's safe and proper use. IFRM is a nonreligious, nonpolitical group dedicated to saving firefighter and civilian lives. IFRM members do not draw a salary and all of the money raised is used to fulfilling the group's mission. IFRM was formed in 2007 by retired emergency-response professionals. For more information, visit its website at www.ifrm2007.com.

About Emergency Ministries

Emergency Ministries is a group of specially trained Chaplains who respond to the needs of our first responder community. Founded in December 1998, we became incorporated as a non-profit corporation in Texas in 2000 and received our 501.c.3 non-profit status from the IRS in August 2000. Each of our Chaplains has served as a first responder as is or has been an EMT, firefighter, paramedic or police officer. For more information, visit its website at www.emergencyministries.org

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