First thing on a Monday morning, I received a call to report to the mayor’s office. This usually means something went wrong with delivery of fire and emergency services over the weekend that I didn’t know about, but he does. This is never a good thing in the life of a fire chief. He asked me one simple question: “What are we doing to serve citizens with mental health challenges in our community?” I did not have an answer, which is also not a good thing.
Then began the journey of discovery. The discovery that mental health challenges were not only the worst kept secret in our country, but also in our Fishers community. The admission that there was a gap in serving our citizens that we knew very little about. The shock that we were not an all-hazards fire and emergency services department even though we claimed to be. The surprise that public safety and public health were at a crossroads, and we were standing in the middle of it.
It soon became evident that we must address issues such as behavioral health, homelessness, and public health. We had to expand our focus to also include these needs, as well as continue responding to traditional calls for service. In our DNA is to respond to EVERYTHING and help EVERY TIME, but these calls for help are much broader in scope. The services required fall outside the traditional capacity of fire departments, yet we are uniquely positioned to respond to such calls for help.
We had to establish a new identity for fire and emergency services in Fishers. Our pervasive beliefs, values, and attitudes influencing how we operate had to change. We had to create and implement technology for the robust use of data and analytics. Sustainability required relationships and partnerships we never imagined. Community mental health and wellness became a strategic objective and a key component of our paramedicine and Stigma Free Fishers initiatives.
Today, seven years later, our programs include a foundation of behavioral health training for all personnel. Our EMS Duty Officers, with an additional 120 hours of education, responds to every behavioral health run with follow-up in 72 hours. We sought partnerships with mental health providers, law enforcement, hospitals, and other fire departments and created sustainability through a variety of service providers. In addition, technological improvements that link all these resources together, measure outcomes, and ensure no one falls through the cracks.
Our city needs us and will continue to need us in ways it never has before. Our new objective is to remain relevant for our community, have the greatest impact in a rapidly changing environment, be sustainable, and address the whole needs of Fishers – its residents, business, governing body, and our personnel who will be tasked with carrying out the 21st Century mission.
Yours in Service,
Fishers Fire Chief
Get involved throughout May Mental Health Month and help our community work towards being #StigmaFreeFishers. Learn more about the initiative and see the full event lineup at thisisfishers.com/MentalHealthMonth, and follow Fishers Health Department on Facebook and Twitter for resources.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or 9-1-1.
Steven Orusa is the Fire Chief of the Fishers Department of Fire and Emergency Services. He has lived in Fishers for 12 years near the Fishers District at the Yard. In his spare time, he enjoys visiting the Fishers Farmers Market, boating on Geist Reservoir, and serving as a mentor in HSE schools for Youth Mentoring Initiative. His favorite thing about Fishers is the quality of life and sense of place in the community.
The Fishers Department of Fire and Emergency Services is a fire and emergency services delivery team exceeding our community’s expectations by providing the highest level of prevention, preparedness, and intervention to all hazards. Learn more on their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter for updates.