Wausau Fire Department works to help employees with mental health

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) – The Wausau Fire Department is working to ensure that mental health, wellness and personnel shortages are a top priority for the service.

It comes after Chief Bob Barteck reviewed the fire department and asked staff what they would like to see changed.

“Fire and EMS is an extremely stressful job,” said Chief Barteck. “They can witness a lot of tragedy throughout their career. They work very long hours.

Chief Barteck said there is a direct correlation between the number of hours worked and declining mental health.

“And in our business, the more hours you work, that’s the burnout level, that’s the higher call volume that you see during that time,” Chief Barteck said.

Barteck encourages his staff to speak up when they are experiencing a decline in their mental health.

“So it’s a mutual understanding between our management and our staff that we need to address this in any way we can,” Barteck said.

As firefighters and paramedics continue to face tragedies, they too must cope.

“Most of us keep it in mind and sometimes we don’t always let it out or discuss it. We are improving here in Wausau with this,” Battalion Chief Tim Bingham said.

The fire department has launched a physical wellness program with a personal trainer to help staff improve their mental health and well-being.

“Every day, every firefighter here is allowed 1 hour and 15 minutes of fitness time,” Barteck said.

The Wausau Fire Department has also added 3 chaplains to assist their staff.

“Their main role here is to support the staff. And our staff can connect to that chaplain and find a great resource there or they may prefer to see one of the counselors there through our employee assistance program,” Barteck said.

A chaplain will be assigned to each fire station.

The Wausau Fire Department also offers peer support and a member assistance program for its personnel.

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