AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – It is a rather sensitive subject, but a subject that certainly needs addressing – suicide prevention for first responders. Resources are available for those men and women who protect and serve every day, and we look at several different ways that they can get help. To help us with that, we enlist the help of The Code 9 Project. But first, some statistics for you – 6.6% of EMS professionals report having attempted suicide, 0.5% of all civilians do that same thing, so the number, much higher for those EMS pros. Actual suicides, 13 out of 100,000 civilians will take their own life, 13 out of 100,000, police officers, 17 out of 100,000. Again, higher numbers for those people you can imagine the reasons why such a stressful job day in and day out, and that’s why The Code 9 Project exists.

Brad Means: Brandielee Baker is the CEO of it and she is kind enough to join us today on The Means Report, Brandielee, thank you for what you’re doing for these men and women and thanks for being with me today.

Brandielee Baker: Thank you, Brad, it’s a pleasure to be here and I look forward to discussing these very sensitive, yet very important topics with you and your listeners.

Brad Means: And me too. Let’s take a look at the typical suicidal first responder, is there a common threat that runs through these men and women that make them want to take their own life? In your career, have you noticed anything like that?

Brandielee Baker: Yeah, the common threat is lack of a awareness and education of the cumulative stress, so cumulative stress is absolutely a precursor and the tremendous pain of having to continue to serve community and country, with that stress accruing and without, and this is the key, without free access to trainings and supports. You know, for a very long time, getting any kind of help, especially in our first responder in military environments was considered weak and there was a fear and still to this day, in some areas, Brad, a fear of punitive towards their careers should they seek assistance. So, the stigma is still present in 2022 and this creates a very big obstacle. Now you combine that with the fact that these individuals are in leadership positions, they’re being called to answer our crises, right? This is their job is to answer our crisis and help us and fix these things, so imagine what it must feel like when your body starts to portray your capacity to just function on a day to day basis starts to break down. There’s a big fear, there’s a big disconnect inside a human being that’s experiencing those things in any career, but most especially in these emergent careers that we’re speaking about right now.

Brad Means: Maybe I watch too much TV, but it seems like on these crime shows that you watch or even shows that deal with members of our military, that if something stresses them out, or if they have a traumatic experience, they go back to the headquarters or the station and they’re put on leave and they’re put in touch with folks who can help them, doesn’t that kinda stuff happen? And so the question is, if it does happen, are you saying it’s not enough?

Brandielee Baker: I’m saying it’s not enough and I’m also saying that it happens in some areas and it happens sometimes, but the ability to understand that every single human being, no matter what career you choose has a nervous system and in stress careers, ’cause that’s what we’re talking about, our first responders sign up for stress careers, much like broadcast news, Brad, and we have to understand the basics of our nervous system and our stress responses and we’re not doing enough educating of our first responders and those in other stress careers to help them understand that basic maintenance in of peer support, in the way of counseling, in the way of self care on a day to day basis is a critical component to sustaining quality of life, health, and certainly their career.

Brad Means: We’re gonna talk about the programs that Code 9 Project is prepared to offer and how you get involved, but my question is, before we get to the specifics, are you folks working with individuals or do you go into departments or military bases and work with larger numbers of folks?

Brandielee Baker: That’s a great question. So we have many, many first responders reaching out confidentially, individually via email in our social media sharing their experiences, they reach out to our peer support hotline and we serve as a bridge to help them get resources, counseling, et cetera, in their local areas but our main fellowship is we deliver nationally accredited stress education and wellness leadership trainings for our commanders all over the nation, for our frontline officers all over the nation, and we also offer a family course. So we do these trainings to provide the education about our nervous systems, to provide resources and self care tools, to help manage the day to day stresses as well as we have a critical incident response team that you won’t hear when we deploy obviously that rapidly deploys to departments that sustain suicides or even mass disasters or casualties like mass shootings, you know, those have significant impacts on our departments and when they sustain a loss or a crisis, they can’t shut down and you know, tend to themselves and reopen like other businesses, so our organization deploys and we help stabilize the department while they’re still continuing to serve our communities, which is something that our communities out there take for granted and don’t realize until we have these discussions like today.

Brad Means: All right, when we come back on The Means Report, we’re gonna continue our conversation with Brandielee Baker, President and CEO of the Code 9 Project to find out what happens once her people deploy, when they arrive, how can they help? We’ll let you know when we come back.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report, we appreciate you staying with us as we continue to talk about ways to keep our first responders and members of the military safe and healthy and happy, especially if they are having suicidal thoughts. The Code 9 Project specializes in that kind of assistance and Brandielee Baker continues to join us here on The Means Report, she’s the President and CEO of Code 9 Project, Brandielee lemme talk about some of the specific programs that you all offer beginning with Project Canine and it’s just as it sounds, it involves dogs, and so my question is, dogs can do great things we all know that, when you sense that that might be an appropriate project for someone who needs help, do y’all send dogs to places all over the country, how’s it work?

Brandielee Baker: So we have some in-house canines that are critical incident response team trauma dogs and so, wherever we go, wherever we are deployed, whether it’s for an emergency or for our trainings, we bring our canines with us or at least one of them, so I think you even have in your reels, some footage of that, we just came back from doing in California, and so the other branch of Project Canine is that we have departments that reach out to us that have the prerequisite is they have to have an existing peer support team and that peer support aspect of their department needs to be in existence for at least three to five years, so it needs to be in a working operational arm of their department and what we do is we train the canines to be a part of their peer support. So they’re essentially another peer support officer for their departments and studies have shown that this is a tremendously positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the department itself and of course on officers that sustain a lot of critical incidents, like an officer involved in shooting and things like that, as well as dispatch which we don’t think about, a dispatch is facing a tremendous amount of cumulative stress on a day-to-day basis.

Brad Means: So I’m hearing you correctly, it’s like another officer on hand inside that department and if you go to a peer support session or some sort of therapy session, while you’re dealing with this trauma, the dog is in the room or, does the officer get to take the dog home?

Brandielee Baker: The dog is in the room in the sessions, the dog is also a part of the department, so, there’s access to the dog, you know, when they’re in between calls or in between shifts, so, yes, the dog is a part of the departments.

Brad Means: Let’s take a look at S.H.A.R.E. training and I know in our first segment, you mentioned the importance of peer support is that what S.H.A.R.E. training is sort of a way to go in, Code 9 Project goes in, teaches these officers and others how to care for one another?

Brandielee Baker: So, this S.H.A.R.E. arm of our program stands for self-help and responsive education and these are our nationally accredited stress education training intensives, so these are specific trainings for wellness, stress, and in our commander programs, it’s wellness training in a leadership role. Our T.U.F. programs which stand for talk, unwind, and focus, those are our peer support programs. So those T.U.F. programs, we build peer support and critical incident teams across the country in departments that don’t have, you’d be surprised how many departments do not have in rural areas, especially critical incident response teams and or peer support teams so we go in and we do the training and the building of those for them as well as having an arm of non-affiliated peer support groups that meet the third Saturday of every month, much like AA is run, our T.U.F. programs meet the third Saturday of every month across the country, our retired Captain, Gordon Smith, heads program, he picks the topic and then the programs are run exactly the same. So that individuals, maybe they’re vacationing in Atlanta, for example, or Georgia and they’re from New York, they look up, they contact us, they find out where a meeting is on the third Saturday, and they can attend those peer support meetings. And they’re done in a specific wellness fashion to ensure and prevent individuals from getting triggered. Oftentimes, these peer groups they meet and it serves as a community, a sense of community, however, the manner in which they’re speaking about their experiences is actually triggering their nervous systems sometimes without them being aware of it and that’s not productive.

Brad Means: Lemme ask you this, lemme jump in real quick and I know it’s awkward to jump in on these Skype interviews.

Brandielee Baker: No problem.

Brad Means: No, I appreciate you bearing with me on that aspect, gimme a specific, if somebody’s in a T.U.F. session and they say, look, this job is stressful, I had an incident last week, I don’t know how to deal with it, it’s affecting my personal life, what’s something that somebody in the room might say back to that person in that moment?

Brandielee Baker: So they would ask, a, how is it affecting your life? And we would go through where the pinpoints are or the impact that they’re recognizing and then we would ask questions like, are you in counseling already? Do you have counseling? Is that something you’d like to us to help you with so that you can continue to walk through this? And we would, again, help them walk through creating strategies for themselves. You know, the things that all of us as human beings don’t like is to be told what to do, right? And when we’re in a stressful situation, when we’re experiencing some level of crisis or we’re recognizing that our nervous system is, you know, it’s overwhelmed, we have a state of overwhelm, the best approach, most especially with these communities that we’re speaking about, our first responders and our military, is for it to be a collaborative process, for our first responders to feel empowered that they are part of the process and that things aren’t happening to them, or they’re being told, this is what you need and this is how you need to do this. First of all, everyone’s nervous system responds to things differently, this is why providing as many resources and support offerings as possible and trainings regularly and not just as a policy box checked off in departments is so critical. You know, we have these buzzwords in our societies like wellness and self care or fitness, and they crop up like seasonal fashion, in stress careers, PTS, suicide, overwhelm, burnout, those are not buzzwords, those are regular occurrences as a result of cumulative stress and traumatic experiences. And the likelihood of our first responders being exposed to such things is much higher than the average career. So it’s important for us as communities to understand that if you expect that when you call 911, your crises are going to be served in a comprehensive, professional manner, we as societies have to set our first responders up to succeed, and that means, working together as communities to provide these resources and trainings.

Brad Means: You know, Brandielee, yeah, lemme ask you this real quick. I know that we talked briefly about how these incidents can impact a person’s home life, their personal life, do you all have resources at Code 9 Project to help families of these first responders and members of the military?

Brandielee Baker: Great question, yes, we do. So when we deliver our S.H.A.R.E. trainings, it is done in sort of a series or a package. and so our commanders start at the beginning of the week, that’s a two-day course, our frontline officers then follow with their two-day course, and then on Saturdays, which is a great day because it allows for first responder families to take care of their children, so their spouses or their significant others can attend, we have a one-day family training. And if family members aren’t aware and do not have some level of education over this idea of cumulative stress and stress responses, and what happens to the nervous system, without recognizing it, they may be contributing to some of the stress responses in their loved ones. So it’s important that we provide that education to our family members, absolutely.

Brad Means: Well, and it’s much appreciated too. What about the duration of Code 9 Projects involvement with the department or military outlet, if you will, how long do y’all stay with them and how do you know when it’s okay to leave?

Brandielee Baker: So if we’re talking about a critical incident response, we’re there for two to four days and then when we leave the department, we still serve as a bridge and a resource for as long as they need, we have some departments that we’re still in contact with, we help them, you know, we serve as a resource for questions or, you know, assistance in recommendations for their peer support or their critical incidents response teams and as far as our S.H.A.R.E. trainings, many departments contract with us so that we’re coming on a biannual basis to regularly deliver these trainings.

Brad Means: What’s it feel like to be part of a success story? When Code 9 Project gets involved and you see people change and you see people make the choices they need to make to get out of these dark spots in their lives, how must it make you and your team feel?

Brandielee Baker: Well, our team is comprised of active duty and retired first responders in military and most of us wear the call letters PTS for one reason or another, and we know what it’s like to suffer. So there is nothing more rewarding, this is a volunteer nonprofit organization, we volunteer our time to do this, there’s nothing more rewarding like this past week, Brad, when we returned to deliver a second round of trainings in the Shasta County, California area, and we had many officers who had taken our training six months prior show up just to say hi to us and show us how much better are doing. And that to someone like myself and my team who understands what that type of nervous system overwhelm and that emotional pain feels like, it’s priceless, that’s why we do what we do.

Brad Means: Have you noticed in the past couple of years, whether it’s the pandemic or the political climate, as far as that climate involves police officers and members of the military, have you seen the need for y’all’s services increase?

Brandielee Baker: Absolutely. We’ve had, you know, life changing experiences all of us with the pandemic and, you know, pulling out of the Middle East was a huge blow to many of our veterans that had served their countries and were quite confused about all of that, now with the escalating situation in the Ukraine, our military and our veterans who by the way, many of them are in first responder careers, so, that is quite triggering for them and we are here for them.

Brad Means: I don’t wanna let you go before I touch on the meditation videos, they’re right there on your website, is it as easy as that just to get somebody to go to your website and access those videos? And how do they help?

Brandielee Baker: So when your nervous system is overwhelmed, to sit still and meditate for 20 to 30 minutes, or even, you know, which is recommended to start a practice, it’s too much, and it actually can cause a fight-or-flight response, so we designed these first responder meditation album to be short-guided meditations to help the nervous system retrain itself to relax, except for the deep sleep, which is a 10-minute meditation, which many of our first responders find success with helping them to relax and fall asleep.

Brad Means: And what about the chaplains that you have available and how that they can be deployed to help those folks who need help?

Brandielee Baker: Great question, so, our peer support, when we speak peer support within the Code 9 Project, it’s a three-prong peer support, we have law enforcement and military chaplains, we have law enforcement and first responder, traditional peer support specialists and peer support canine, so whenever we’re deployed or we teach, or we go places where we build peer support groups in departments, we bring all of those resources so that they’re available and accessible and right now our director of chaplaincy and two other law enforcement chaplains are already deployed in Poland, so they are helping with the Ukrainian situation and the refugees in Poland.

Brad Means: My last question, 45 seconds left, pretty much is just, how can we help you? What do you need from the public? And how can people hire you?

Brandielee Baker: Thank you so much for asking that question. As far as hiring us, we’re a nonprofit, we go where we’re called, we’re not a solicitous organization. With regards to your viewers and the community in our nation, our emergency rapid deployment is all dependent on scholarships so that we can just get on an airplane, we leave our jobs, we leave our families to go and serve these departments, so donations to our organization is what keeps us afloat and allowing us to provide these resources.

Brad Means: Brandielee Baker, Code 9 Project, we’ll put your information up on our screen, thank you for being with me today and thank you for all y’all do.

Brandielee Baker: Thank you so much, Brad, for the opportunity, you supporting first responders and the military means a great deal to us at our organization.

Brad Means: Absolutely, go to Code 9 Project on the web, support them.