TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senators Fred H. Madden and Paul Sarlo which would establish a toll-free, 24-hour hotline to respond to calls from fire and EMS personnel dealing with psychological or emotional distress was unanimously approved today by the Senate Law, Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“Occupational stress is hazardous for anyone, but when it comes to people in occupations like firefighting and emergency services, too much stress could prove to be life-threatening, not just to themselves, but also to the people they serve,” said Senator Madden, D-Camden and Gloucester, a former State Trooper. “By calling upon former fire and EMS professionals to staff the hotline, stressed first-responders would have an opportunity to talk out their problems with people who really understand the pressures they are experiencing.”
“According to a report issued by the University of Washington’s School of Public Health, roughly 20% of EMS workers experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” said Senator Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic. “Day in and day out our first-responders are called upon to save the lives of members of the public; we have to make sure that we look out for their health and well-being too.”
Under the Senators’ measure, S-1772, the hotline would be established to receive calls from fire and EMS personnel, who have experienced personal or job-related stress, trauma, depression, anxiety or other psychological and emotional trauma.
Hotline operators would also provide referrals for callers who need further counseling services. Hotline operators would need to be familiar with trauma disorders, depressions and anxieties unique to fire and EMS professionals. Operators would also need to be trained to provide marriage and family counseling, substance abuse counseling, personal stress management and other emotional or psychological counseling.
The bill would call upon the Department of Community Affairs’ Division of Fire Safety to work in conjunction with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey/University Behavioral Health Care (UMDNJ/UBHC) to establish and maintain the hotline. The agencies would also be responsible for establishing guidelines for tracking callers who exhibit symptoms that might pose a risk to themselves or others. The bill also directs the Division and UMDNJ/UBHC to prepare a list of licensed/certified psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors and former fire and EMS personnel who are willing to provide the counseling services.
A similar hotline was established by statute within the Department of Human Services.
This measure now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.