First Line Support line operational

CARMEL – Putnam County’s First Line Peer to Peer Support Program is here to help because as the group’s logo states: “We understand and we care!”

The service operates 24 hours a day to assist members of law enforcement, emergency services and their families in need for someone to talk to. There is no charge for the service.

Putnam County recently created a “warm line” operating around-the-clock, seven days a week, to assist veterans with thoughts of suicide while connecting them to suicide first aid resources.

First Line volunteer John Bourges, coordinator of the Joseph Dwyer Vet2Vet Program in Putnam, explained the “warm line serves as a point of reference and support to not only veterans but their families as well.”

Emergency services, much like the military, is often stress-filled and under the direction of Kent Police Chief Kevin Owens, Putnam Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Keith Blessing, Director of the Mental Health Association of Putnam Megan Castellano, Pastor Andrew Columbia of the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church and Bourges, have enrolled a group men and women who have become trained to challenge attitudes that inhibit open talk about suicide.

Police officers, firefighters, emergency services providers, corrections officers and dispatchers now have a resource available to them when needed due to the stigma often attached to law enforcement personnel or EMS needing help.

Bourges said the program allows an individual to “call someone who has walked in your shoes and understands what the person is going through. We are not accusing you of being broken or saying anything is wrong with you. The program allows the person in need to get from Point A to Point B.”

Chief Owens has experienced a great deal during his law enforcement career. “When an ugly incident unfolds, the first thing I think about is my family or close friends. Who is this person who has been killed or critically maimed? I pray that I don’t know the individual and always seek to get help for the victim and his or her family. After the fact reality sets in. Cops are deeply affected since the majority refuse to cry in public.”

Sgt. Blessing described law enforcement and EMS as “never knowing. It’s inevitable but one day you will arrive on a scene of horror–an incident never prepared for. While being diligent and professional at the time, once the uniform is taken off at the conclusion of a shift, the terror or repulsion remains needing emotional survival tools to process. Stress builds up and the program will serve as a resource making sure that members of the emergency services and police communities can receive the help they need.”

During a recent training session at Kent Police headquarters, a number of volunteers were asked why they became involved in the new initiative.

Bourges described the numbers of emergency responders taking their own lives as an epidemic. “Firefighters, police officers, 9-1-1 dispatchers are all not immune. No direct peer support exists for them to make a call and talk with someone. First Line has no barriers. We are here to assist anytime of the day or night.”

The diverse group of participants now fully trained will be able to recognize a person having thoughts of suicide while engaging them in direct and open talk as well as listening to the person’s feelings about suicide to show that they are taken seriously.

The next step is to move quickly to connect the individual with a professional trained in suicide intervention.

Those in need are encouraged to call 845-745-0088 anytime of the day or night.



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