Meet a peer supporter: Jen

Our trained Peer Support network is made up of firefighters and firefighter family members of all ranks and backgrounds from across the state, and they’re a crucial lifeline to Minnesota’s 20,000 firefighters and their families – from coping with difficult calls to talking through life problems like divorce or a death in the family.

Jen Elleraas, captain and training officer for Garrison Fire & Rescue, is one of those dedicated MnFIRE peer supporters. Here’s our recent interview with Jen where we learned more about the process of getting connected with a peer supporter:

Tell us a little about yourself, your history with the fire service and who you are outside of your role as a firefighter.

I have been a firefighter with Garrison Fire & Rescue since 2019. It’s a rural, paid on-call fire department in Central Minnesota. I also serve as an EMT on the department and casually for an ambulance service. Serving my community as a first responder is one of my greatest honors and has quickly grown into one of my strongest passions. My full-time career has been working in the human services industry for over 20 years. In my free time, I love lake life and spending time with my family and friends.

Why did you become a MnFIRE peer supporter?

Firefighters are servant leaders in their communities answering the call to help others on their worst day. I’m humbled by the honor and privilege to be here to answer the call from a fellow firefighter. Being a peer supporter creates an instant connection because we speak the same language, experience similar things and can relate on the same level. Trauma and grief need a witness and I’m honored to walk beside a fellow firefighter who is bravely traveling on their journey.

What is the most rewarding part of being a peer supporter?

It’s rewarding to support a fellow firefighter and I’ve learned so much from the amazing humans I’ve had the privilege to meet. I am always in awe of the resilience, courage, compassion and commitment of firefighters, who answer the call and put their life on the line before others. It is true bravery when a firefighter answers their own call and reaches out to invest in their emotional well-being.

What is the most surprising part of being a peer supporter?

It’s surprising how much the timeline of connection can vary when supporting my fellow firefighters. Sometimes we connect for a few weeks to talk through a specific incident, and another time I supported a peer for over a year. It is a person-centered approach to benefit the specific needs of that firefighter. There is no timeline or specific commitment. If I am not the right peer match for a firefighter, the firefighter can switch – no questions asked. If a firefighter needs a higher level of care, MnFIRE offers professional counseling sessions at no cost. This program is truly focused on the firefighter to protect and prioritize their emotional health in alignment with MnFIRE’s mission.

What do you see as the most valuable component of the MnFIRE Hometown Heroes Assistance Program?

The program provides vital resources to firefighters in the research-driven areas we need most including cardiac, cancer and emotional health. It provides resources to help fill the gaps for firefighters who experience one of these industry-proven hazards. The Peer Support program is unique, pairing Minnesota firefighters with someone who shares similar experiences, creating an instant connection and trust to be able to open up on the tough stuff we face on and off the fireground.

What two suggestions would you share with every Minnesota firefighter to improve their mental health?

1.) Health is all tied together. Firefighters are often sleep-deprived, trying to grab meals on the go while we balance our family, jobs and relationships. We have to be intentional about our health. Exercise, healthy foods, hydration, laughter and sleep all play a critical role in our emotional well-being. 2.) If you see a fellow firefighter struggling, have the courage to have a conversation. The MnFIRE call line is a quick, easy way to connect someone with resources. The hardest part is making that initial call, so let’s encourage each other to make it. I promise it gets easier from there. We should be spreading the word of MnFIRE like wildfire. It is free, confidential and safe for any firefighter in Minnesota. No one fights fire alone.

See more stories like this in our 2024 Taking the Lead impact report.

Help is just a call away

MnFIRE Peer Support is a safe, confidential space to talk about what you’re going through with someone who gets it. Get connected with a peer supporter by calling our 24-hour helpline at 888-784-6634.

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The fire service comes with its own unique stress, and the important work we do can quickly weigh on us emotionally. But confidential peer support, counseling sessions with specialized mental health professionals and other mental health resources are always available to Minnesota firefighters and their families, at no cost to them through the MnFIRE Assistance Program.

For more information or for help, call 888-784-6634 or visit mnfireinitiative.com/hhap/#MAP.

#mentalhealthmatters #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth
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Thank you to the dedicated firefighters at home in Minnesota, and around the world, who sacrifice so much to serve and protect their communities.

We show our support on #InternationalFirefightersDay, and every day, by providing the physical and mental health resources they need to prioritize and protect their health against cardiovascular disease, emotional trauma and cancer.
... See MoreSee Less

Thank you to the dedicated firefighters at home in Minnesota, and around the world, who sacrifice so much to serve and protect their communities.

We show our support on #InternationalFirefightersDay, and every day, by providing the physical and mental health resources they need to prioritize and protect their health against cardiovascular disease, emotional trauma and cancer.
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