PROVO, Utah (ABC4) – Helping first responders handle trauma on the job is taking a step forward today at Brigham Young University.

BYU Police Department hosted the first ever peer support symposium with 10 police, dispatch, and fire agencies in Utah County to better learn how to support each other when they witness trauma on the job. The highlight of the symposium was when they introduced a new app that allows first responders to connect with trained trauma specialists to talk about their experiences.

“They serve the community with everything they have, and this is a place to serve each other and be able to build off of that,” said Dr. Tia White, co-owner of the Cairn Center for Mental Health.

“We’re trying to bring the county together to strengthen each of their peer support teams so we can take of each other,” said Lt. Wade Raab of BYUPD.     

When a first responder witnesses something traumatic like a nasty fire, deadly shooting, or horrific car crash, some agencies have fellow firefighters or police officers trained to offer them support, but right now these peer support teams aren’t widely available.  

Not every police agency here in Utah County has a peer support team. For many, talking about their traumatic experiences is still a difficult subject to broach. With the introduction of this new app, first responders now have a safe space to go to when they need someone to talk to.

“Now we have a platform where we can talk with other peer support members from other departments and get their ideas on what’s working and what’s not working,” said Melissa Albee, lead dispatcher of Central Utah 911.

The new app serves first responders exclusively and allows them to confidentially connect with each other as well as mental health experts who are trained to deal with trauma.  

“This program lets us feel safe about sharing our opinions with each other and trying to work through different things,” said Officer Shawn Parker from Provo Police Dept.  

The Springville First Responders Foundation, which is funding the app, believes it will not only help responders but also the people they serve.

“They’re just normal human beings, right? Every time they arrive, if you’re having a bad emotional day, a mental day, and you’re not feeling that support, your reaction to how you respond to a domestic violence case is night and day difference,” said Carl Spencer from the Springville First Responders Foundation.  

BYU knows some of these agencies will be using this peer support system for the first time. They hope by bringing everyone together, responders’ ability to handle tough calls throughout the county will become much stronger.