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Charleston program expands to offer counseling, support to public safety officials

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - For nearly seven years, a program through the Charleston Department of Mental Health has opened it doors to offer counseling to members of The City of Charleston Fire Department.  The service was created in response to the Sofa Super Store Fire, a 2007 blaze that claimed the lives of nine firemen, and affected many others.

Chief Karen Brack of the City of Charleston Fire Department said the program offers an invaluable service to members of her team.

"We all have different attitudes and different opinions on dealing with the things that happen in our everyday life, then you compound that with what you see on scenes," she said.

"There's a whole community out there that works together to make sure that we're taking care of the behavioral health needs."

Matt Dorman, director of Charleston's Public Safety Behavioral Health Program, said counselors have served nearly 500 people since the Charleston office opened its doors.  Within the last six months, the center expanded its reach to include all public safety officials.

"For people in public service, a lot of us are helpers," said Captain John Jacobik of the Charleston County Sheriff's Office.  "We don't normally look to get help for ourselves,"

"It's not a weakness. Your brain needs to be reset sometimes until you understand that you're doing the right thing."

City of Charleston firefighters who worked the 2007 Sofa Super Store Fire can access the service free of charge.  Other public safety officials can access the fee-for-service program using most insurance plans.

"This is an opportunity for them to get help themselves," said program director Matt Dorman.

"My hope is that first responders out there will seek services and not suffer in silence."

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