January 24, 2022
Florida’s first responders see new funds to help cope with trauma and prevent suicides

Florida’s first responders will be better-equipped to deal with the emotional toll that comes from the job, thanks to millions of dollars going toward mental health programs, Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey, said Friday.

Speaking from Tampa on Friday, DeSantis and his wife announced $12 million in funding to expand mental health services to first responders. It will be spread throughout the six Department of Children and Families regions. The goal to help prevent suicides and cope with traumatic situations.

First Lady Casey DeSantis told firefighters, police and combat veterans gathered Friday the aid will make sure “you have the help that you need.”

“It’s more than anything else to say, ‘Thank you for your service, thank you for what you do,’ ” she said.

Dustin Hawkins, a firefighter for Indian River County Fire Rescue who also works as a chaplain, told the couple that the efforts show “we don’t go at this alone.”

He said he can’t stop seeing “people I’ve put in body bags, kids, families, that I’ve scraped off the roadway and zipped up and gone back to my home and acted as if I was normal.”

Gov. DeSantis referenced the summer tragedy at the Surfside condo collapse in Miami-Dade County, where rescuers worked on site looking for signs of life beneath the rubble. “It was very, very emotional for the folks who were there responding,” he said.

It was DeSantis’ second nod to first responders this week.

On Monday, the governor announced plans for another round of $1,000 bonuses for police and other first responders — including firefighters, paramedics and EMTs — as part of his upcoming budget proposal during a press conference in Orlando.

“We are showing we stand by folks who stand by us,” he said Friday.

In 2019, Casey DeSantis also took on mental health when she announced that she’ll work with state agencies to examine the effectiveness of state programs with the goal to “let the good people of Florida know how to get meaningful help in a timely fashion that meets their needs.”