Program Description

First Responders experience unavoidable stress and traumatic events in the course of their vocation. If these challenges are not dealt with in a productive manner they can lead to emotional and behavioral health problems. Since many of the current ways to deal with these challenges revolve around assistance and treatment after the event, the Illinois Fire Service Institute has sought to change the fire service culture relative to mental health and resiliency by adding training to many of its courses. This culture change will occur by helping First Responders to be aware of the components of resiliency when they encounter stressful events.


Resiliency Background

On November 17, 2016, IFSI Director – Colonel Royal Mortenson, USMC (Ret.), issued a directive to develop First Responder Resiliency Awareness curriculum for inclusion in all IFSI courses 24 hours and greater. Director Mortenson’s action means over 70 IFSI courses will soon include mental health information in the course presentation. Once integrated, IFSI instructors will share the mental health message with over 4,500 First Responders every year. His imperative emphasizes that the purpose of including First Responder resiliency material in IFSI courses is to promote awareness, not magically make First Responders more resilient.

The family and founders of RE:ACT –The Lt. Ryan Elwood: Awareness, Counseling and Training for First Responders made a generous donation to the Illinois Fire Service Institute to aid in the development of the Mental Health and Resiliency curriculum.

After the decision was made to include Mental Health and Resiliency Awareness in IFSI curriculum, the first task was to assemble a team of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to help guide the “content portion” of the curriculum development process. In gathering this team, Institute Staff reached out to the Presidents of the Associated Firefighters of Illinois, Illinois Fire Chiefs Association and the Volunteer/Combination Officer Conference in order to ensure that our SMEs were not only experts in the mental health field, but also represented the over 42,000 firefighters in the State.

Resiliency Project Team and SMEs



Chief James Moore – Project Director

Illinois Fire Service Institute

Chief Patrick Kenny

Illinois Fire Chiefs Association
Volunteer Combination Officers Committee

Dr. Terry von Thaden

Illinois Fire Service Institute

Deputy Chief Paul Gardner (Ret.)

Illinois Fire Service Institute
Illinois Firefighter Peer Support

Dr. Cody Todd

NCC Red Tail Clinical Counseling

Engr. Kurt Glosser

Illinois Fire Service Institute

Battalion Chief Dan DeGryse

Rosecrance Florian Program

Jada Hudson

Hudson Clinical Counseling
Illinois Firefighter Peer Support

Lt. Matt Olson

Associated Firefighters of Illinois
Illinois Firefighter Peer Support

Assistant Chief Art Zern

Illinois Firefighter Peer Support
Illinois Fire Service Institute

Chief Steve Gambrill

Faith Based Chaplains
Illinois Fire Service Institute

Behesha Doan

This Able Veteran

FF Kevin Coffey (Ret.)

Faith Based Chaplains

Chris Venezia

Illinois Fire Service Institute

Once assembled, the SMEs quickly got to work on designing three specific periods of instruction (30, 60 & 90 minute) to meet the time constraints of our various programs. From there, objectives were developed, then content was provided to meet the objectives. This is where the first affirmation of the program occurred. As staff reviewed the volume of information provided by the SMEs, it confirmed their assessment that firefighters are a resilient bunch that answer the call when others don’t. Unfortunately, they don’t completely recover from the challenges they face. With this affirmation in mind, staff concluded that this program should address mental health awareness from the perspective of resiliency, because firefighters will inevitably experience some challenges as first responders and as family members. It is at this point that the mental health program became the First Responder Resiliency Project to better reflect our intention of helping first responders to identify the challenges they will face and how to find healthy ways to recover and grow.

With this, we were able to focus our content and curriculum development toward the components of resiliency with the understanding that all firefighters need a positive support system in order to be the community servants and people they desire to be.

As the curriculum development process is on-going our SMEs remain passionately engaged and continue to generously lend their time, their talent, and their ideas. The degree of collaboration has been encouraging and will no doubt ultimately lead to improved awareness and resiliency of mental health in the fire service.

In August of 2017, IFSI commenced the Resiliency Project by placing 1 Hour of Resiliency and Mental Health Awareness training in all requisite classes.

As a leader in fire service training and education, the Illinois Fire Service Institute’s First Responder Resiliency Project will help to bring the importance of physical and mental well-being to all First Responders.



Program Manager


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