NORFOLK, Va. — Norfolk Fire-Rescue is doubling down on wellness and mental health.
From May 9 through May 13, the department will undertake a five-day training with a company that specializes in improving public servants' physical and mental health.
It's an appropriate time: May is Mental Health Awareness month.
For Norfolk Fire and Rescue crews and many others, the COVID-19 pandemic added additional stressors causing burnout across the department.
“People are getting tired," Battalion Chief Stephanie Ramsey with Norfolk Fire and Rescue said. "They’re getting worn out.”
The Norfolk Fire Department is still dealing with a staffing shortage, although leaders say they are slowly working their way back to full capacity.
“Right about 12 vacancies," she said. "So, not bad for a staff of over 500 members.”
As leaders work to fill those positions, they said emergency call volume has spiked.
"We’ve always averaged over 40,000 calls a year," Ramsey said. "Last year it was just over 50,000. So, definitely on that mark to reach over 50,000, probably around 55 this year.”
Outside of these pandemic-related issues, Ramsey said staff members are dealing with other injuries through heavy lifting and responding to constant fires. She wants personnel better prepared to respond
That’s where O2X Human Performance comes in.
It's the company running the training, and it was founded by a former Navy SEAL. It offers lessons to the military, federal agencies, and public safety groups like fire departments.
"As tactical athletes, first responders risk their lives daily to keep their communities safe," an O2X spokesman wrote. "They endure physical and, more importantly, mental stress throughout their careers. As a result, it’s become critical that they train their bodies properly to stay healthy, but also maintain their mental health."
That means they'll be learning about nutrition, strength training, sleep tips, and stress management.
“We take them through the prepare and nutrition side and then from the neck up address any issues they’re experiencing in their day-to-day work,” said Ian Crumley with O2X Human Performance.
Norfolk Fire-Rescue Chief John DiBacco said the department was committed to helping its members live healthy lifestyles.
"More than ever, Norfolk Fire-Rescue recognizes the value of making both physical and mental health a top priority for our members," he wrote.
If you're looking for resources to improve your own mental health, click here.