Support team has helped hundreds since Sofa Super Store fire

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The Charleston Fire Department was left broken. But from the ash, like a phoenix, rose a support team formed to help manage the pain left by the deaths of the Charleston 9. It's a support team that still exists and is dedicated to the emotional health and well-being of firefighters and their families.

Five years after the Sofa Super Store fire, the Charleston Firefighter Support Team is doing so much more than it was expected.

"As time progressed, and as we moved on, we learned that there were a lot of other issues and problems that affected our firefighters' ability to do their job every day," said Firefighter Support Team leader Gerald Mishoe.

With the city's blessing, support from Mayor Riley and the department of mental health, the team and the services provided expanded.

"We were able to expand this team to provide a full-service counsel unit where we help families and firefighters with whatever stresses them and whatever bothers them in their daily lives," Mishoe said.

From marriage counseling to help with alcohol abuse, the Charleston Firefighter Support Team is there to help. The team has three clinicians on staff, a physician that comes in once a week and assists with medication management and several trained peer counselors that reach our to firefighters at various stations in Charleston.

All together, Mishoe says, the team has documented more than 5,000 contacts in its five years of existence. But, that didn't come easy. Mishoe admits it can be tough to get firefighters to talk about their feelings.

"It's a matter of trust, quite frankly," he said. "Our clinicians and our peer counselors work very hard to build that trust. Once we get that trust and respect built between the parties, then we're able to have those folks come in and take advantage of the services."

And take advantage they have. They've served about 350 firefighters. It's a program that has had so much success, that Mishoe hopes it will become a statewide service.

"What people need to understand is as we hopefully improve the lives of our firefighters in this method, we improve their ability to do their job, which in essence improves public safety and provides a better end result. That's really what we're about -- taking care of our folks while they take care of others," Mishoe said.

The Charleston Firefighter support team is available 24/7. Mishoe says they also work with the children of firefighters.