Miami Valley fire departments receive funds to prioritize mental health, staffing

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – As Ohio fire departments deal with a record volume of calls, the governor’s office is offering some help to ease some of the stress and workload.

Several Miami Valley departments are receiving funds for retention, recruitment and wellness.

The Dayton Fire Department had its highest call volume ever in 2022, with more than 41,000 runs.

DFD receives a $5.8 million grant from the Ohio First Responder Employment, Retention and Resilience Program. Of that, $5.3 million will support 30 full-time firefighter positions.

Dayton Fire Chief and Director Jeff Lykins said he is still working on whether the grant money will create new positions or supplement their recruit class starting in January.

“It could be a combination of that, we just haven’t had those discussions,” Lykins said. “We wanted to at least address the fact that we were very excited to receive the award. “We have great plans for it and we have an idea, but we just need more information.”

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Gov. Mike DeWine created the grant program to distribute $75 million in America’s Rescue Plan funds in multiple rounds to law enforcement agencies, dispatch centers, fire departments and EMS agencies. The program aims to tackle burnout caused by workplace stress and understaffing.

The Huber Heights Fire Department received two grants in two separate rounds. The department will use $547,000 to hire a firefighter/paramedic and create administrative staff roles.

Administrative Battalion Chief John Russell said the money will help put an alternate response vehicle on the streets to free up some workload.

“They’ll be able to come out and assist the medical crew with lift assistance or they’ll be able to come out and assist and really, hopefully, they’ll lower the call volume on some of our fire crews so I don’t have to go out and to do some of those things,” Russell said.

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Along with addressing staffing challenges, grants can also be used by first responder agencies to support the physical and mental health of their staff.

“We haven’t always been the best at taking care of our emotional needs or, you know, our mental well-being, and obviously, every day the men and women of the Dayton Fire Department respond to tragedies,” Lykins said.

DFD will use the remainder of its grant to fund a health coordinator and clinician position to care for the physical and mental health of their firefighters.

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The Huber Heights Fire Department also received $287,000 for a full-time health coordinator and contracted with a local health care provider.

Russell said prioritizing mental health can make the fire service a more sustainable, long-term career.

“It’s a way to make sure we keep good quality employees throughout their careers and not just, you know, ‘Hey, I’ve been burned out for five, six, seven years,'” Russell said.

Also during this round of awards, the Xenia Department of Public Safety received a grant of more than $130,000 for on-site mental health and wellness training.

DeWine has awarded $49 million so far as part of this program. For a complete list of every Ohio agency that has received a grant so far, click here.


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