Phoenix firefighters will begin to receive unique training this summer as part of a new program to help first responders better understand the needs of veterans.

The Phoenix Fire Department, in partnership with the Arizona Coalition for Military Families and the Arizona National Guard, has developed a program to train first responders to be more aware of problems and challenges surrounding returning veterans. The goal of the program is to create more awareness of veteran needs and help firefighters understand the best ways to help.

The program includes training on military culture, stressors, post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, treatment challenges, homelessness among veterans and even time speaking one-on-one with a wounded warrior.

Capt. Dean Pedrotti with the Phoenix Fire Department, who has helped develop the program, estimates it will take about four months to get the city’s department of 1,800 members through the hour-and-a-half training.

“Some of it is just opening the door to say this guy is a vet, we need to look at this differently,” Pedrotti said. “When we find out someone is a veteran then you start to have a dialog like what branch were you in, where did you serve, did you see any combat and how are you doing right now? On the front end it’s telling them thank you. After firefighters attend this training and see what combat is like they come away with a much different understanding. A heartfelt thank you makes a difference.”

The program was first offered at the National Guard to Phoenix fire paramedics. Seeing success there the program was then offered to paramedics in the East Valley. More than 1,000 paramedics have currently received the training and now all firefighters at the Phoenix Fire Department will receive it.

Ken Fennema, an engineer for the Tolleson Fire Department, said he has already responded to calls where the training was useful.

“I’m not military so I don’t know a lot about this,” he said. “Dean is a good friend of mine and so when he told me what he was doing I thought this was an important program for us to try… Even calling a veteran by the proper title can go a long way. What we do when we’re invited into your home is we have to establish a rapport with you and try to find out what’s wrong and how we can help you. By properly showing respect that goes a long way to beginning what we do.”

The Phoenix Fire Department hopes the Veterans Awareness Training will help responders to connect veterans in crisis with the correct resources. Firefighters will be trained in groups of 25 at a time, beginning this summer.

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