Gov. Ralph Northam signs bill to create more mental health help for firefighters, EMTs

Bill requires fire departments, EMS agencies to offer mental health help

By Colter Anstaett - Southside Bureau Reporter

DANVILLE, Va. - Gov. Ralph Northam has just signed a bill to address mental health challenges firefighters and EMS personnel face.

The bill requires fire departments and EMS agencies to offer mental health help for firefighters and EMS personnel.

Everyone is familiar with dangerous scenes like firefighters risking their lives to put out flames.

But what many people aren't familiar with is the unseen threat -- the mental toll it takes.

"We deal with a little bit of everything," Danville firefighter Allen Plummer said. "Sometimes, we have the stereotype that we're heroes. But we're human first and we see things and it does bother us."

Plummer has been a Danville firefighter for almost seven years.

He called the new bill enlightening.

He also knows firsthand just how important mental health training can be.

Last year, thanks to fellow Danville firefighter Jay Farrar, a mental health program started being offered for Danville firefighters.

"You find guys now open up more, because that's one of the things the mental health program teaches you; to talk about what you're dealing with, talk about your emotions," Plummer said.

Danville Life Saving Crew Chief Robbie Woodall said mental health programs are critical for EMS personnel as well.

"We're going to be offering a lot more training in the future. I don't think we're there where we need to be, but we are working to bridge the gap," Woodall said.

The new bill requires programs to include several topics, including how to access mental health treatment and resources.

"I think it's great to have somebody at the higher level in the government that understands what you're facing on the front lines," Woodall said. "I think that's a very crucial part of getting the necessary training and funding you will need."

Firefighters and EMS personnel will also be able to earn continuing education credits for participating in their department or agency's program.

The bill goes into effect July 1.

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