Today, the Long Beach Fire Department's Homelessness Education and Response Team (HEART) conducted a “Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety” class for our 21 newest fire recruits. Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that teaches a five-step action plan encompassing the skills, resources and knowledge to help an individual in crisis connect with appropriate professional, peer and self-help care. Participants learn the unique risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems. In addition, they learn about the importance of early intervention and how first responders can help someone in crisis or experiencing a mental health challenge.
"Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety" provides first responders with more response options to help de-escalate incidents involving individuals that are dealing with a crisis. The training provides firefighters with a better understanding of mental illnesses so they can respond to mental health related calls appropriately without compromising the safety of the responders as well as the safety of the patient. The course is taught to public safety audiences nationally. However, the instructors for the class today are the first two Firefighter/Paramedics certified to instruct the class locally. Firefighter/Paramedic Joel Davis and Firefighter/Paramedic Justin Verga are assigned to the HEART unit and have seen firsthand the importance of this training and how it will enhance the service we provide to this segment of the community. In addition, the Long Beach Fire Department is the first fire department on the West Coast to include this class as part of the required initial training for new fire recruits.
This course is part of a long-range plan to train all firefighters and paramedics working in the City of Long Beach. Upon its inception, one of the goals of the LBFD HEART unit was to provide education to firefighters and paramedics about the complex and diverse needs of the unsheltered homeless population and how to connect homeless individuals to appropriate services. Based on research developed and published under the County of Los Angeles Homelessness Initiative, Phase 1 of “Strategy E-4” which outlines creating a coordinated system through “First Responder Training". This training will emphasize strategies for dealing with situations that arise among the large population of individuals experiencing homelessness who have mental health problems.
The successful launch of this effort was done in partnership with Mental Health First Aid USA, a program managed, operated, and disseminated by the National Council for Behavioral Health. Mental Health First Aid is included on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP).