In this episode of Beyond the 1st Response, Christy and Robyn discuss with retired Fireman/Police Officer, Keith Contant. Unknowingly providing peer support to members of his department, Keith has now taken it to a new level with his organization First Responder Peer Initiative.
30 Years of Service
While spending 30 years as a Chicago Fireman and part-time Police Officer, Contant got to know how both fields do or don’t deal with processing the calls on which they respond. Eventually struggling with his marriage and relationship with his kids falling apart he realized something inside of him had to change. This drove him to start working with his EAP.
Sitting at the Table vs Sitting in the Squad Car
Keith noticed that after a call at the firehouse, you go back to the station and gather around the kitchen table to have a conversation about how the call went, how it made you feel or just sit in silence together. As a police officer after a call you get back into your squad car alone and key up for the next call never really processing what just happened or how it made you feel. As a police Sergeant, Keith would stage behind a building, car to car, and talk with his officers processing the call. Discussing how it went and how it made him feel. More often than not, the officers would open up to him. As a superior, this is leadership that came naturally to him.
Guns are Pulled Less Often than you Think
The reality of how often an officer pulls their gun from the holster or even fires their weapon is rare. Keith mentions he even knows cops in Chicago that have never pulled their gun their entire career. Mental health struggles are completely different; this happens more often because of the lack of understanding and support.
“I wish when I was younger I would have paid more attention,” says Keith. “It took longer than it should have to understand the importance of peer support.” Contant talks about missing signs before getting help and not understanding the importance of having someone to talk to. “Find the person you can be vulnerable with, another officer, fireman, family member, retired first responder, or a counselor. Providing support for First Responders is necessary, even more so from the beginning of their career. Coming together with the common struggles can help open up the conversation.” First Responder Peer Initiative is there to help start that conversation and support each other.
Keith’s girlfriend, a community ambassador for Mission BBQ saw the difference he makes in First Responder’s life. She started bringing him along to the visits to firehouses, police departments, and veterans centers for him to open the conversation and provide them with someone they can relate to. If there is anything we can do, be present in the conversation, allow them to speak, sit, cry, or get angry, it will help save someone.