Fire Chief Talks Mental Health, Wellness, Partnerships
From building stronger relationships with other emergency agencies, to examining and improving mental health of his firefighters, Duluth’s new fire chief – Denny Edwards — is moving beyond just the flames. FOX 21’s Dan Hanger as the exclusive one-on-one interview.
It’s a new and changing chapter for the Duluth Fire Department.
“We’re doing a lot more planning and practicing and training with other agencies,” Edwards explained.
Edwards is almost on a daily basis reaching out to other city and county agencies to figure out ways to streamline services and get better prepared for a potential serious crisis.
“Because obviously around the country and around the world, we’re seeing the active shooter, the terrorist things,” Edwards explained. “Those can and maybe will happen here, but we are going to be prepared for them.”
Chief Edwards is taking the lead on creating a region-wide training and incident command class to better share resources while building trust with agencies that often end up at the same emergency, like the St. Louis County Rescue Squad.
“Being able to share the resources — because every agency is good at a lot of things, but not good at everything or their not equipped for everything. Nobody around here is. So that’s why it’s so important for us to work together,” Edwards explained.
Meanwhile, beyond responding to the record number of calls for service at 16,000 just last year, Edwards believes strongly on efforts of safety, wellness and mental health for his firefighters.
“There’s nothing more important than the health of our firefighters here.”
Since being appointed chief in May, Edwards has connected with free services at St. Luke’s for nutrition advice for his staff, and he’s even partnered with students at the College of St. Scholastica for medical testing.
“We’ve actually found some corrective health issues,” explained Edwards about some of the firefighters.
And this care doesn’t stop there and goes long term.
Edwards, who studies health and wellness in college, is passionate about saving the lives of his men and women – beyond while fighting fires.
“When you look at mental health issues or addiction issues or behavioral issues with relationships — all of those things — public safety individuals have a higher problem with because of the stressors of the job,” Edwards said.
Edwards is also working to offer these health programs to other agencies and departments, like the Duluth Police Department’s officers.
“This is just another way we are helping each other and sharing resources,” Edwards said.
As Chief Edwards moves into 2017, he says he’ll be starting discussions about the need to hire additional firefighters on the department to meet what he calls safer levels.
That safer level is four firefighters for every fire rig.
Edwards points to the worst example at Woodland’s fire hall where there’s just two firefighters to the rig there.