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Growing volunteer group a boon for public safety forces

WINDER - Stress levels for public safety officials can reach stratospheric heights beyond what's considered healthy. These special needs call for exemplary help, a group dedicated to combating abnormal stress believes.

What began several years ago as a band of Barrow County volunteers has recently expanded to include caring volunteers in an entire region, officials said.

Recently dubbed the "Northeast Georgia Critical Incident Stress Management Team," the group considers itself a multi-component crisis intervention system. It is dedicated to reaching out to public safety personnel - be it firefighters, police, dispatchers and so forth - who encounter "a higher level of stress that can have a very negative effect," said Barrow County Fire Department spokesman Lt. Scott Dakin, the team's coordinator.

Team members include mental heatlh and school officials, social workers and members from the private business sector. The team has expanded in the last two years to include members from Gwinnett and Oconee counties, Dakin said.

"Every member on the team is dedicated to critical incident stress management, and helping to reduce the negative effects of traumatic events," he said. "They volunteer their time for training ... you couldn't ask for a better group of people."

Most recently, the team hosted a training event at Barrow Public Schools' Professional Development Center. The two-day event allowed several team members to gain certification from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Dakin said.