K9 Intervention in Volunteer Fire/EMS Service




I’m a volunteer firefighter. It’s been twenty fives years but I can still see the young mans face as he lay there void of life at a motorcycle crash during my first year of service. I think that’s why it took me 25 years to figure things out. I compartmentalized everything to survive. It took years to let those barriers relax enough for my experiences to blend and realize I can help other first responders.

In the volunteer model there’s no-one there to follow up to see how providers are managing the stressors after a call. The responder goes back to empty firehouse and then home. There was nothing in place to mitigate or manage a “bad” call. The connection of seeing my dog at the door when I came home from a bad call was powerful. I didn’t understand the science, I just knew how it made me feel. Call after all and year after year I continued to receive healing comfort from the many dogs that lived with me and the ones that crossed my path.

The purpose of this presentation is to reach as many first responders and provide them with tools to mitigate or interrupt the process of PTS/PTSI.

There are four levels of intervention in this model. In level one and two the dog belongs to the handler responder and trained and certified at the therapy dog level and exposed to the components present in debriefing and various settings. Level 3 uses puppies. Most are obtained from breeders.
There are several different organizations that provide services dogs and they all have their own different ways of doing so. Some use rescue dogs, others use breeders. Each has pros and cons. The ideal breed for service is the breed with which the handler is most comfortable. Any breed is suitable for service, but the requirements for temperament are not. Temperament is critical and cannot be compromised. Again, keeping the mantra of “safety” in mind is key. If the responder/handler is afforded a safe environment (which becomes mobile with a service dog), this process becomes life changing and all possibilities are on the table.

Level 1. K9 CISM
To provide peer debriefings for fire fighters, EMS personnel and police; essentially providing Critical Incident Stress Management support for first responders who have experienced trauma — in the line of duty, during active duty or after leaving service – in order to attempt to prevent the onset of PTSI using the Mitchell model of peer support.
To support various first responder agencies to create preventative support strategies to head off PTSI before it takes hold, by creating safe places to process trauma

Level 2. Therapy/”Mobile Service” (1:1 – K9 Team: Responder)
Handler uses their personal therapy dogs for those who require K9 intervention, but for some reason are not able/do not want their own dog

Level 3. PTS Service Dogs
To network with breeders and trainers in order to provide affordable service dogs to first responders, veterans and others who suffer with PTSI who are in need of PTSI Service Dogs. The canines are puppies obtained from established selected breeders and provided to handler at minimal cost.
The puppy is in handlers possession at 8 weeks, then to trainer for 1-2 week B/T for polishing and detailing

4. Education
To speak to as many groups as possible to educate in PTSI prevention in high risk environments in order to be able to access what ever services are needed when the time comes.

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion, participants will be able to
  • Know the two hormones stress reduction and production.
  • Know the five levels of K9 Intervention.
  • Know the difference between “PTSD” and “PTSI”.