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Group Kicks Off Effort To Expand Mental Health Training For First Responders

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) - The chaos and carnage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year exposed once again a critical need for first responders — mental health training.

In the days after the shooting, we saw the effect of the shooting on a pair of Coral Springs police officers who responded to the tragedy.

"My wife and son go to the school. My wife's a teacher there. She's assistant athletic director," Sgt. Jeff Heinrich said through tears.

Trying to fill that need for mental health training for police, fire, paramedics, and dispatchers was the focus of an event Friday night in Deerfield Beach.

Michael Allora is a retired Deputy Fire Chief from New Jersey and he's also a Mental Health First Aid national trainer.

He said there's a stigma surrounding mental health that needs to be overcome. He also said the Mental Health First Aid training serves two purposes for first responders — learning critical lessons to recognize mental health problems in people they encounter and also dealing with their own mental health needs.

"You're taught what to look for, how to appropriately engage and how to connect people to the appropriate care whether it be professional help or self-help," he explained.

The attempt to grow this training grew out of a group called "Thank You, First Responders" and a song written by Matt Jackson. Jackson said his goal in writing the song was straightforward.

"Create a culture of thank you so as we see (first responders) in our restaurants and stores we can say, 'Thank you for your service,'" he said.

Speakers at Friday's event at BrandStar Studios in Deerfield Beach said it was planned specifically for the day after the one year mark since the Parkland tragedy.

"We can all sit here and talk about the other issues but mental health is at the core of what went wrong (in Parkland) and we've got to fix that," said Rep. Chip LaMarca, (R) District 93.

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony spoke at the event and reinforced the need for this training, saying that first responders witness violence, injuries and people at their worst.

"Those moments are not isolated where we faced it, we go home and it's over. No. You take it home with you," Tony told CBS 4's Carey Codd.

"It's not just a singular moment where they've been inside the school, they've been at the locations. Now, it's they're taking it home and they're dealing with it with their families."

Tony said he would like to see more funding for this type of training.

"We need to also recognize that this is just as essential as firearms and any other technical equipment we use," Tony said.

The group "Thank You, First Responders" has funding to pay for this mental health first aid training for 20 South Florida first responders. They're hoping to raise additional funds to expand the training in South Florida and across the country.


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