Charleston Fire Department to pilot new mental health app

The Charleston Fire Department is hoping to pilot a new app to expand mental health resources for its firefighters.
Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 5:00 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 25, 2023 at 10:23 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston Fire Department is hoping to pilot a new app to expand mental health resources for its firefighters.

Firefighters have a heightened risk of developing PTSD, depression, anxiety and alcohol use disorders because of their repeated exposure to stress and trauma, recent studies from the National Institute of Health show.

“It almost gets stuck where it’s just auto-playing in your mind, it plays over and over and over again,” Robert Baldwin, the Assistant Chief of Special Operations for the Charleston Fire Department, said, “Being able to say it out loud, have someone to talk with, someone who can relate to what you’re going through, helps that individual process.”

The Charleston City Council will vote to approve the contract with First Response Mental Health on Tuesday for a 2-year pilot program for an app called “PeerConnect.” There will be no cost to the city because the pilot program is being covered by the South Carolina Wellness Initiative.

“PeerConnect” gives first responders instant access to their Peer Support Teams and other mental health resources, Nick Fiorito, the Chief Strategy Officer of First Response Mental Health, said. Peer Support Teams are made up of first responders who have some mental health training.

“They’re kind of a guide, so if you need some assistance, it’s often a good first step to go to a Peer Support because they do the same job as you,” Fiorito said.

While developing the app, they learned that first responders can be hesitant to reach out for help, Fiorito said. With the click of a button, the app alerts all the firefighter’s Peer Support Team that they need some extra support, removing the burden of reaching out to themselves.

“What we’ve done, while developing this with first responder groups, is flipped that model. It’s almost like a pager, or putting your hand up,” Fiorito said, “You’re saying ‘Hey, I could use a chat.’”

The Charleston Fire Department’s Peer Support team has 17 members, encompassing all ranks.

Baldwin said he believes “PeerConnect” will make communication between an individual firefighter and their Peer Support Team easier.

“Right now it involves the firefighters initiating themselves,” Baldwin said, “This is going to allow the company officer to initiate, the battalion chief to initiate, so it’s a lot more sets of eyes on individuals and what’s taking place out there.”