New program helps Huntington’s first responders combat compassion fatigue

Local News

HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – The Compass Advisory Committee cut the ribbon this morning on its new state-of-the-art wellness center.

The new Compass Center, located in the Jean Dean Public Safety Building, is designed to be a resource for skills needed to foster health, humanity and performance for Huntington’s police and fire personnel, according to city officials.

According to the city the center “integrates multiple disciplines, contemporary lessons from science, and medicine to resource and train first responders and their families.”

Phase one of construction has been completed. The center features job-functional exercise equipment, a group exercise space for activities such as yoga or jujitsu classes, a full kitchen, a sauna, an academic and media center and office space for the fitness coaches.

We’re making sure that evidence and science integrate to make sure that we’re helping those who are helping others.

Huntington Mayor

Compass first began through the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ U.S. Mayors Challenge, a year-long competition to challenge city leaders to test innovative ideas to confront challenges their cities face. In October 2018, Huntington was one of nine cities chosen to receive an award of $1 million to implement their solutions. City leaders say they saw the competition as a way to address compassion fatigue among police officers and firefighters.

“We have embedded here at the police department a mental health coach and a physical fitness coach and they’re here to help our officers maintain not only their physical fitness, but also their mental and emotional fitness so they can survive the journey here and make it out the other end of their time here with our police department whole and intact with their families,” said Huntington Police Department Chief Ray Cornwell. “It enables them to do their jobs with good judgement and compassion when their out here on the streets everyday.”

“There’s a price to pay for being a hero, and our first responders are heroes.”

Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader

Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader says while being a first responder is a rewarding career, they are also exposed to traumatic circumstances. She says this program will provide training for first responders on how to deal with that trauma.

“We strive to save lives and protect our communities. That’s what we’re here for, but while doing so, we are exposed to unspeakable traumas,” Rader said. “Once again, Huntington is embarking on a one-of-a-kind program that can be replicated throughout the country.”

The program has since involved cover other health components of health and humanity that could impact first responders’ performances by building a bridge between physical and mental fitness. The program also works to normalize occupational stress as well as how trauma can impact the first responder, their family and the organization.

“Through focus groups and feedback from our police officers and firefighters, we learned very quickly that the high-stress situations of being on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic required a new way of thinking about how we take care of the people who take care of us every day,” Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. “Compass is enabling our first responders to become part of the decision-making process in developing self-care, training and mental health resources.”

Williams says the program has been funded by private grants through Bloomberg Philanthropies. When the grant funding ends, the mayor says the program will be absorbed into the city’s general fund.

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