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Madden, Sarlo Bill Establishing Hotline for Fire and EMS Passes Committee

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Fred Madden and Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chair Paul Sarlo that would establish a 24-hour, toll free crisis hotline for firefighters and EMS employees passed the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.

“Emergency service workers and firefighters are heroes in our communities and are there for us during some of the most traumatic moments in our lives,” said Senator Madden (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Being exposed to such terrible events can cause many in these fields to develop PTSD. This hotline would ensure that our heroes have someone to turn to that could provide them with the assistance they need.”

The bill, S-2898, would direct the Department of Community Affairs, in collaboration with Rutgers University Behavioral Healthcare, to establish a round-the-clock “New Jersey Fire and EMS Crisis Intervention Services” telephone hotline. It would also require the department and university to consult with representatives of certain fire and emergency services and organizations with establishing the hotline. The hotline would be available to fire and emergency services personnel experiencing depression, anxiety or any other condition related to mental health.

“The responsibilities of firefighters and emergency service workers often expose them to scenes of tragedy,” said Senator Sarlo (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Such exposure could become mentally taxing for many causing struggles with mental health. This hotline would allow those in need of assistance the opportunity to speak with a specialist at a moment’s notice.”

The operators of the hotline would be trained by the department and university. To the greatest extent possible, the operators would be familiar with the post-traumatic disorders often experienced by fire and emergency services personnel, and trained to provide counseling services involving marriage and family life, substance abuse, personal stress management and other mental health-related conditions that adversely affect people in these fields.

The bill would also recommend that the state annually appropriate at least $250,000 to support the costs associated with operating and maintaining the telephone hotline. This appropriation would be supported by the fees and penalties collected by fire code enforcement activities.

The bill was released from committee by a vote of 13-0, and next heads to the full Senate for further consideration.