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Addressing EMS' 9/11: First Responder Data Organization Conducts RAPID Mental Health Assessment During COVID-19 Pandemic

The Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends (FIRST) at Drexel University just launched the COVID-19 RAPID Mental Health Assessment (RAPID), funded in part by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency's Assistance to Firefighters grant program (FEMA AFG), Drexel's COVID-19 RAPID Grant program, and a gift from Dr. Arthur Frank. RAPID leverages two current FIRST projects to measure the mental health impact of coronavirus on paramedics, firefighters, and EMTs.

The Fire Service Organizational Culture of Safety (FOCUS) survey was developed with funding from the FEMA AFG. FOCUS collects fire department metrics including management commitment, supervisor support, burnout, job satisfaction, and engagement. FOCUS quantifies their impact on a fire department's injury rate. Under normal circumstances, fire departments who enroll in FOCUS take the assessment annually. Under the RAPID program, FIRST selected a geographically representative sample of 20 fire departments to administer FOCUS once a month for six months. The RAPID FOCUS assessment not only measures organizational outcomes, but takes a deeper dive into gauging the mental health of each department using validated scales such as intention to leave the profession, social support, anxiety, and depression.

The Stress and Violence in fire-based EMS Responders (SAVER) projects works closely with three large metropolitan fire departments to obtain highly detailed data regarding on-the-job violence against EMS responders. SAVER utilizes validated scales to measure burnout, anxiety, stress, and depression. Under normal circumstances, these three departments get assessed on a quarterly basis. Under the RAPID program, the SAVER departments will be assessing once per month for six months.

The fire and rescue service experience severe resource strains under normal circumstances. The coronavirus pandemic is putting these strains under a microscope. FIRST's RAPID program is getting information to help while keeping reporting burden low. Such mental health measurement is not unlike the air quality monitoring during 9/11 by the University of California, Davis. Dr. Thomas Cahill was conducting passive surveillance in the area surrounding the World Trade Center and detected unprecedented ambient levels of heavy metals, sulfur, particulate matter, and acidic aerosols, among other harmful and dangerous compounds.

Dr. Cahill's research, in combination with the work of others, led to the creation of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. This paved the way for presumptive legislation that provides compensation for cancer and other diseases prevalent among 9/11 first responders.

By initiating the COVID-19 RAPID Mental Health Assessment, the FIRST Center is conducting passive surveillance that will be used to inform policy, behavioral health, and staffing needs of the fire and rescue service, both in usual operations as well as during crisis situations.

Dr. Jennifer Taylor, FIRST Center Director, said of this work, "Data drive policy. The pandemic creates an opportunity to collect data so when we all come out of this, the behavioral health needs of the fire and rescue service are taken more seriously."

The FIRST Center is proud to be working with the following fire departments from across the nation on the COVID-19 RAPID Mental Health Assessment:

Anchorage Fire Department, AK
City of Burlington Fire Department, WI
Clive Fire Department, IA
Dallas Fire-Rescue Department, TX
Dekalb County Fire Rescue, GA
DeWitt Fire District, NY
Essex Fire & Rescue, VT
Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District, CO
Harrisonburg Fire Department, VA
Hyannis Fire Department, MA
La Crosse Fire Department, WI
Lacey Fire District 3, WA
Mt. Lebanon Volunteer Fire Department, PA
Paine Field Fire Department, WA
Papillion Fire Department, NE
Philadelphia Fire Department, PA
Prescott Fire Department, AZ
Rochester Hills Fire Department, MI
Salt River Fire Department, AZ
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, CA
Southwick Fire Department, MA
St. Petersburg Fire Rescue, FL

For more information, please contact Lauren Shepler, Outreach and Communications Manager: ljs326@drexel.edu