Sidney first responders receive state funding

SIDNEY – Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday the first round of funding to be awarded to local first responder agencies as part of the new Ohio First Responder Recruitment, Retention, and Resilience Program.

Sidney’s first responders were included in the 26 total agencies that received funding in this round. Sidney received $22,000 to create a wellness plan for fire, rescue, police and telecommunicator personnel.

According to Sidney Police Chief William Balling, the tentative plan for the money will be to invest it in the Protect the Protectors program, which was started by the Robertson Research Institute in 2016. This study has worked with over 2,000 first responders and 50 agencies and has shown that participants are at a higher risk of depression, anxiety and suicide, among other risks. The program goes beyond mental health and addresses overall health, performance and relationships.

At the beginning of the program, participants will complete a brain health assessment and receive a personalized report. A tailored mid-term assessment will also be conducted, then the brain health assessment will be taken again after two years for comparison and possible modification to the program.

“We believe that our first responders are the most critical resource that we have, and we need to ensure that we are doing everything that we can to protect them,” Balling said.

“We are excited for the potential to provide, with these grant funds, training that will help our first responders learn and develop mental resiliency,” Sidney Fire Chief Chad Hollinger said. “The work that our first responders engage in takes a toll on them physically as well as mentally. We are focused on insuring that our responders have the tools and resources necessary to allow them to fulfill their mission and to minimize the impacts that stress has on them holistically.”

The 26 agencies included in the first round of the Ohio first responder funding will receive $1.67 million in total to help them support the wellness needs of law enforcement officers, dispatchers, firefighters, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). The program will offer a final total of approximately $75 million in funding for initiatives that support wellness programs addressing mental, physical, and emotional health issues unique to first responders; recruitment and retention efforts to restore workforce levels; onboarding and training costs; and explorer programs to engage young adults about first responder careers.

“Our first responders face the daily challenge of providing the highest level of response and care to Ohioans during traumatic circumstances, having little to no time to effectively process the stress brought on by these situations,” DeWine said. “We created this grant program to help our first responders take care of themselves so that they can continue taking care of others.”

The program is funded as part of the $250 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding that DeWine and the Ohio General Assembly dedicated to first responders last year to help counter various pressing issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including increased stress and decreased staffing levels.

Among other programs for first responders since taking office in 2019, DeWine has also created the Ohio Office of First Responder Wellness within the Ohio Department of Public Safety, which focuses exclusively on the well-being of first responders and provides specialized support and training to help emergency-response agencies proactively address post-traumatic stress and other traumas caused by factors that are unique to first responder careers.