From answering the call to making the call: A fire chief’s journey with peer support

“We had an incident where a person lost their life in a grain bin. We all knew this farmer who lost his life. Once we left the scene, I knew it had touched all of us,” explained Chief Jeff Leuer of the West Suburban Fire District, a paid on-call department of 50 firefighters covering 50 square miles including stations in Loretto and Hamel.

“When I left the scene and was driving back to the station, I called MnFIRE and I said, ‘We just had this incident. I am concerned that I am going to have some people who are going to have to deal with this. What do I do? How do I direct them?’”

Fortunately, Jeff knew that confidential help was available 24/7 for any firefighter and their family through the MnFIRE Assistance Program, which targets emotional health and stress unique to the fire service through connection to mental health counseling and peer support.

The trained MnFIRE Peer Support specialist who answered Jeff’s call reassured him: We can help. Point them our way. What Jeff didn’t realize was that it wasn’t just his firefighters who stood to benefit from the program.

“That peer supporter from MnFIRE, they said, ‘How are you doing?’ They stopped me in my tracks,” said Jeff.

That simple question helped Jeff realize his bucket of stress and trauma was practically overflowing. After being in the fire service for 25 years, he could barely take it anymore. With the peer supporter’s reassurance and the offer to talk again, they hung up.

Jeff talked about the conversation with his wife and thought maybe that was it. But the next morning, he got a call from that same peer supporter, saying, “Good morning, Jeff. How are you doing today? It’s a new day. The sun is shining.”

From that day forward for about a month straight, the peer supporter would call or text him.

“While I didn’t go get formal, professional help, that person helped bring me from the really tough place I was at,” said Jeff. “‘We’ve got to get some of this stuff out of your bucket,’ they would say. I still get emotional.”

“MnFIRE, and the peer support, it means so much to me.”

And those firefighters Jeff referred to MnFIRE? Two of them told him how glad they were that someone reached out, that they had an excellent experience. Jeff said, “Even if they don’t get formal help, they are guided in the right direction.”

This incident wasn’t the first time Jeff or his team needed some help from MnFIRE, and it won’t be the last. Two of his firefighters recently experienced cardiac events and sought help from the Critical Illness benefit. And others sought out MnFIRE Peer Support when a fellow firefighter died unexpectedly in 2021.

Jeff’s department takes mental health very seriously. And talking about it, he believes, makes it easier for people to reach out when they need it.

“I have had struggles. Still today, if something comes up, I’m not afraid to give a call and talk to someone,” Jeff said. “By firefighters hearing the chiefs say, ‘I had a problem. I needed help. I reached out and it helped.’ It makes it okay for them to give a call. It’s for firefighters, and it’s for chiefs, too.”

Confidential help is available over the phone or online, anytime for any Minnesota firefighter and their family through the MnFIRE Assistance Program. For more details or for help, call 888-784-6634 or click here.

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Have you reserved your spot for the 2024 MnFORE Golf Tournament yet? Enjoy an 18-hole round of golf, cart, lunch, happy hour, plated dinner, silent auction and more on Tuesday, July 16, all to benefit Minnesota firefighter health and well-being.

Register and learn more about sponsorship opportunities at mnfireinitiative.com/mnfore/
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Have you reserved your spot for the 2024 MnFORE Golf Tournament yet? Enjoy an 18-hole round of golf, cart, lunch, happy hour, plated dinner, silent auction and more on Tuesday, July 16, all to benefit Minnesota firefighter health and well-being.

Register and learn more about sponsorship opportunities at https://mnfireinitiative.com/mnfore/

Darren from the Morton Fire Department is our latest MnFIRE training survey drawing winner for a Streamlight Survivor flashlight!

Our FREE health and wellness training is crucial to understanding mitigation and prevention strategies for cancer, cardiac and emotional trauma. Register your department for a training and start your journey to a better life as a firefighter, and you might also win a streamlight in the process! mnfireinitiative.com/training/
... See MoreSee Less

Darren from the Morton Fire Department is our latest MnFIRE training survey drawing winner for a Streamlight Survivor flashlight!

Our FREE health and wellness training is crucial to understanding mitigation and prevention strategies for cancer, cardiac and emotional trauma. Register your department for a training and start your journey to a better life as a firefighter, and you might also win a streamlight in the process! https://mnfireinitiative.com/training/

If you live in greater Minnesota and are interested in becoming a MnFIRE training instructor, please join us for our next virtual Train the Trainer class on Wednesday, April 10, at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom.

With the help of our medical experts, you'll learn how to help deliver this crucial training about cancer, cardiac and emotional wellness to firefighters in your area. To register, contact DeeDee Jankovich, MnFIRE Director of Program Delivery, at djankovich@mnfireinitiative.com.
... See MoreSee Less

If you live in greater Minnesota and are interested in becoming a MnFIRE training instructor, please join us for our next virtual Train the Trainer class on Wednesday, April 10, at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom.

With the help of our medical experts, youll learn how to help deliver this crucial training about cancer, cardiac and emotional wellness to firefighters in your area. To register, contact DeeDee Jankovich, MnFIRE Director of Program Delivery, at djankovich@mnfireinitiative.com.
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