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Idaho first responders receive mental health training to understand the impacts stress and trauma have on the body

Local fire chiefs said their staff are responding well to the training and are already putting some of the Polyvagal methods to use.

BOISE, Idaho — There is a new mental health training catching wind among first responders in the Treasure Valley.

This training uses something called Polyvagal Theory, which helps people understand how their body is impacted by stress or trauma. Kimberly Crawford, training lead and counselor, said the hope is for first responders to learn how to process their emotions better.

“We’re teaching them how to recognize where they are in that fight, flight or freeze, and then how to get back down to the place where they can truly connect with others, and more importantly, with their spouses, with their children, and with their friends,” Crawford said.

Today marked the beginning of the third Polyvagal Theory training session. Since the beginning of the year, Crawford and her team have traveled to Coeur d’Alene, Twin Falls and Nampa.

Nampa Fire Chief Kirk Carpenter said first responders often know how to take care of themselves physically. However, they may not know how to take care of themselves mentally. This training helps people realize the two are connected.

“I’m feeling joy in being more human than I have been in a long time,” Carpenter said.

Therapists are also getting trained. In fact, Wednesday’s event consisted mainly of counselors and social workers. Crawford said when these professionals go back home, they are equipped with a new way of helping first responders.

Caldwell Fire Chief Rick Frawley said his staff is responding well to the training and is putting to use some of the Polyvagal methods. Over the weekend, their deputy chief suddenly passed away. While devastating, Frawley is proud of the way his crew is leaning on one another and working through their grief.

“We want to have a uniform approach for dealing with grief, dealing with stress and dealing with the challenges that first responders have,” he said. “This is a great step forward for us out of the tragedy that we’ve experienced.”

Even though this week’s training wraps up tomorrow, there are plans to visit Idaho Falls in the fall. The program was originally funded through a grant by Idaho Resilience Project. However, Crawford said they are working on getting funding from the state.

She said if they do not, this program might end sooner than some want.

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