Over 500 public safety professionals attended the Peer Support Conference in San Diego last week.

On September 26-29th, the Public Safety Peer Support Association (PSPSA) held its second annual conference in San Diego, CA. Over 500 public safety professionals from police, fire, and EMS agencies attended the conference. This year’s annual conference easily saw twice the number of attendees from last year’s inauguration.

PSPSA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was founded in 2016. Its mission is to “ethically and responsibly develop and implement Peer Support programs and standards to enhance the training, education and support systems of public safety agencies”. The philosophy of Peer Support programs has become increasingly popular during the last decade in Southern California and many public safety agencies have implemented some sort of Peer Support Team, or similar program, at their agency. Peer Support teams are groups of designated employees who have volunteered to receive specialized training in basic counseling techniques in order to provide mental health support to their peers.

I had the pleasure of co-presenting a breakout session called, “Telecommunicator PTSD: Healing Wounds & Building Resiliency”, with Dr. Heather Williams from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (CA). There were approximately 50 people in our session and I was happy to see both dispatchers and field responders in the audience. Dr. Williams shared information on identifying signs and symptoms of chronic, acute, and post-traumatic stress, along with how to combat each with healthy coping techniques. I followed her by sharing personal stories of tragedy and healing, showing how first-responders can experience growth from trauma.

I was excited to see a special track of presentations specifically for significant others of the first-responders attending. I have had the opportunity and fortune to attend several different conferences in the public safety field in my career. These conferences are a chance to offer employees working in the field (front-line and supervisors) quality training from extraordinary speakers. However, these conferences usually unintentionally overlook the most important people in the lives of first-responders: the spouses/partners who support them. Although the first-responders attending receive great training, most conferences do little to help educate and train the spouses/partners regarding the vicarious trauma they also can experience in their home life simply from being in an intimate relationship with a first-responder. PSPSA did not miss this opportunity and created three special presentations unique to the experiences of a spouse/partner in a relationship with a first-responder. These presentations educated significant others about the field of public safety and taught them skills to help their relationships thrive.

A very special thank you to the PSPSA executive board members, committee members, staff, and volunteers who all worked to make this year’s conference a great success. Save the dates for next year’s annual PSPSA Conference, October 16-19, 2018. You can learn more about PSPSA by visiting their website: www.pspsa.org.