Capt. JD Schulgen and Lt. Matt Brawner are with the Garland Fire Department. Josh Santiago is a firefighter paramedic with the Grapevine Fire Department.
GARLAND, Texas — Three firefighters from two North Texas fire departments returned home after traveling to Surfside, Florida to offer mental health support to frontline workers responding to the condo building collapse site.
Captain JD Schulgen and Lieutenant Matt Brawner are with the Garland Fire Department. Josh Santiago is a firefighter paramedic with the Grapevine Fire Department.
The trio are part of the Peer Support Program with the International Association of Firefighters. The group is trained to respond to high-stress events, offer support to fellow firefighters and share information about local mental health resources.
Schulgen, Brawner and Santiago all told WFAA they did not hesitate to answer the call when the Miami-Dade Fire Department asked for help.
“I was very fortunate. Felt pretty honored and humbled to be able to go down there to serve our brothers and sisters in Florida,” said Santiago.
The North Texas first responders knew their support was desperately needed after they visited the collapsed condo building in-person.
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“A lot of reverence there. With the firefighters doing the work of removing the debris, removing the deceased, removing personal items: That’s special stuff to special people somewhere. And so, it’s very somber, very holy, very reverent place,” said Schulgen.
Members of the Peer Support Program visited with responding firefighters at the site of the collapsed condo building and at various fire stations.
“We go through the same things. And you can’t do certain things in this line of work and go back and tell your family, because there’s trauma that you could pass on to them. And they’re not used to that. So in a way, you can shield them from the things that we see and do, but we can help each other and kind of form our own support network at the fire station,” said Brawner.
The goal of the Peer Support Program is to provide an outlet and someone firefighters can talk to. Members also share information about local mental health resources.
“There used to be the stigma of having an issue. This is one of those jobs that you want to carry a certain amount of respect and you want to appear strong, physically and mentally. But even the strongest people, they may process things in a different way,” said Brawner.
“It’s kind of like getting a broken arm – let’s get it fixed now while the injury’s fresh. Let’s take care of it. And there are certainly counselors and mental health professionals that help us do that,” said Schulgen.