A new chapter for Charleston fire's support team

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - It was a scene that could be anyone's worst nightmare. Nine firefighters were called to serve, but would never be seen again. The tragedy brought about the Charleston Firefighter Support Team.

"The day after the fire, I placed a call to the mayor's office to see if there was any assistance needed by our clinicians," Deborah Blalock.

Blalock is the executive director with the Charleston/Dorchester Department of Mental Health Center. Her call would help begin the Charleston Firefighter Support Team and open the door for many to mend open wounds.

"A resource like that, just to hear your concerns, just to hear you is vital," said Capt. Derek Noffsinger.

The group would be many people's saving grace with trained firefighters and retirees serving as peer counselors and clinicians.

"The peers had to get trained on what signs and symptoms to look for how to talk to somebody, how to help them build trust, and the clinicians had to get trained to understand the firefighter culture," Blalock said.

Over the years the group has expanded its services to all firefighters who may need help with daily stresses. A new chapter is set to begin July 1, as the group will transition to the Lowcountry Firefighter Support Team.

"As a result of this program, the Department of Mental Health is offering the same type of program across the state with firefighters through the South Carolina Firefighters Association and providence insurance company," Blalock said.

There is one notable change.

"Previously the city had a contract with the Department of Mental Health for free, so now the firefighters will be using their insurance to get the care," she said.

Fire Chief Karen Brack says it is important for the services to expand and reach as many people as possible.

"We will still maintain an incredibly strong internal peer team," she said.

Brack says the department will continue to focus on the total well being of an individual.

"We want to look over the emotional health and we want to look after physical health," she added.