Firefighter support team changes name, expands services

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- A counseling program dedicated to helping Charleston firefighters changed its name and expanded its services.

The Charleston Firefighter Support Team opened its doors in 2007, days after the Sofa Super Store fire. Now the support team will be known as the Public Safety Behavioral Health Program.

It's changing to serve the needs of all first responders.

"We've kind of evolved with the need, and we have learned that the need is beyond the city of Charleston Fire Department obviously, and that it's a public safety need," said Deborah Blalock, the executive director for Charleston Dorchester Mental Health.

The new Public Safety Behavioral Health program will take over where the Charleston Firefighter Support Team left off, by offering counseling services not just to firefighters, but to police officers and EMS workers.

"It's an important asset to the sheriff's office it keeps our employees healthy mentally and gives them a confidential place to come and talk about issues they may be having," said John Jacobik, a captain with the Charleston County Sheriff's Office.

Charleston Fire Department Chief Karen Brack says there is an obligation to provide mental health services to all first responders.

"There was a huge need at the very beginning and over time we've sat down and we talked about it and we've made the adjustments we need to make so that we still have access to the programs and that we still have the relationships," she said.

Brack says those adjustments include making the city of Charleston one of several partners with the new program, but the city will not bear the entire cost of the program.

"We still help support the actual facility and we've done some work with insurance support and some things like that so, we've changed the funding method to make it more sustainable," said Brack.

Insurance companies will cover the cost of the program for public safety workers, but if they don't have insurance they won't be turned away.

Since the support team started in 2007, they've had more than 400 firefighters come through the doors seeking help.

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