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Program to help first responders cope with high-stress situations unveiled

The City of Huntington on Wednesday, June 12, unveiled a new program that aims to provide first responders with self-care tools that will improve their ability to cope in high-stress situations.

The program, known as Compass, is funded through a $1 million award that the City of Huntington received in October 2018 from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ U.S. Mayors Challenge. The yearlong competition challenged city leaders to uncover and test bold, inventive ideas to confront the toughest challenges faced by cities today. Huntington was one of nine U.S. cities to receive $1 million to begin implementation of their solutions.

Huntington leaders saw the competition as an opportunity to address compassion fatigue within its ranks of police officers and firefighters. Compassion fatigue is a condition characterized by a lessening of compassion over time among individuals who work directly with trauma victims. This can negatively affect a first responder’s morale, wellness, family life, job satisfaction, mental health and client sympathy.

While community leaders have come together in Huntington to address the opioid epidemic and provide assistance to individuals suffering from substance use disorder, there has been a growing need to develop a widely-used model for first-responder assistance, Mayor Steve Williams said.

“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,” Williams said. “Compass will enable our first responders to become part of the decision-making process in developing self-care, training and mental health resources for overcoming compassion fatigue.”

The Compass program will be multifaceted and will include a variety of trainings and policy changes that will benefit the wellness of first responders; wellness coordinators embedded in the police department and fire stations; a state-of-the-art wellness center; and self-care classes and activities for first responders and their families.

Amy Berner has assumed the position as program manager for Compass. She will be responsible for program execution and evaluation, direction of project support staff, and the maintenance of required records and quarterly reports. 

The Compass model will be used to address compassion fatigue not just for the opioid epidemic, but for all crises that responders face, such as natural disasters, school shootings and fires, Berner said.

“I am so excited about working on the Compass project because I believe that creating a replicable model of wellness and self-care for first responders can help not only the members of the Huntington community, but a variety of communities facing similar, high-stress situations like the opioid epidemic,” she said.

For more information about Compass, visit the program’s website at

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