SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — More than thirty mental health professionals joined South Walton Fire District firefighters for first-hand experience of fire service and the culture.

“One of the reasons I was interested in this is really dealing with and helping to manage trauma exposure in our community and what that looks like for our first responders and our firefighters,” Licensed Mental Health Counselor Teresa Hess said.

The two-day immersive experience is a part of the Second Alarm Project, which offers behavioral health support to firefighters and their families.

“This area of the state is a health provider shortage area for mental health providers in general and when you look at the specific needs of the responder population, there are even fewer mental health professionals who are trained to treat them, so the opportunity to do something like this here really helps solve some of those concerns,” Founder and Director of the Second Alarm Project Dr. Kellie O’Dare said.

The licensed mental health providers participated in search and rescue scenarios, which involved breaking windows and extracting someone from a car.

“We all see the fire trucks go by and knowing that they’re going into these traumatic events, knowing that they need that extra support from our communities and our community resources, our mental health counselors, our clinical social workers, and just being aware and kind of giving that grace that its helpers needing help and being there to be that support,” Hess said.

The Clinician Awareness Program allows them to truly feel and experience the demands firefighters face on the job every day.

“We provide our outpatient counseling services, so we have a network of clinicians who have been trained through this program and who also use evidence-based practices to treat our first responders because treating trauma experts, and first responders and treating them effectively looks a little bit different than your everyday population,” O’Dare said.

O’Dare said they participate in this type of training six to eight times a year.