After serving with the Chattanooga Police Department for over five years, Ben Piazza is using what he knows to help other first responders develop healthy strategies for dealing with trauma by working to establish the Firstline Recovery course locally.
The faith-based course was developed by the people behind Reboot Combat Recovery, a similar program aimed at helping combat veterans. Though he never served in the military, Piazza attended the Reboot course last spring with his wife Kelly and said he was blown away by how well structured and put together the course was.
When he heard that Reboot was developing a class for first line responders, he and his wife were eager to help.
"We knew that we were being called to lead that," said Kelly Piazza, who is a teacher at Bess T. Shepherd Elementary.
Reboot Combat Recovery was founded in 2011 by occupational therapist Dr. Jenny Owens in Fort Campbell, Ky. Reboot began developing Firstline Recovery in 2015, and 11 locations will offer the course this year. The program adopts many of the trauma recovery strategies, but aims them specifically at police, fire and emergency medical services workers.
The Piazzas will be leading the course with Paul Bobenhausen, a Hamilton County emergency medical technician.
"I don't believe the class has all the answers for people who are dealing with the side effects of seeing traumatic events every day, but it definitely helps," Ben Piazza said.
Kelly Piazza said she hopes she can help other spouses and families experience healing.
"PTSD really is an awful beast. It takes your spouse and completely leaves behind a shell of what they were. It affects the whole family, if you have a spouse or if you have kids," she said.
She said the course will help spouses understand what their partners have been going through and will also help them with the secondary stress they may be personally experiencing.
"It helps to understand that the symptoms aren't because of you or because of your marriage; it's because of the trauma they've been through. And I really think that will save marriages," she said.
Ben Piazza emphasized that Firstline Recovery is not just a support group, but rather a structured course that teaches people to help themselves.
Every week has a topic, and the material has been prepared by doctors and psychologists who specialize in trauma. Topics include roots of trauma, false guilt, depression and suicide.
Many people deal with trauma in unhealthy ways, such as alcohol, drugs, gambling and other addictions, Ben Piazza said. Even developing an addiction to work and turning away from one's family can be a side effect. The course is designed to teach healthier ways to cope.
The first session is being held at the Hamilton Family YMCA Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. The class will meet two hours a week for 13 weeks. Dinner and child care will be provided by volunteers, but because of this, the session is limited to 20 people.
Registration opened in mid-January and the class reached capacity in about a week and a half, Ben Piazza said.
"We knew there was a need for it in this area but we were surprised by the overwhelming response," he said.
The leadership team said they hope to offer more sessions in the future, and possibly at multiple locations.
"I'd like to believe there is a chance they can take this course and one day be able to lead something like this," Ben Piazza said of the students who will be taking the course.
Any first responder could benefit from the course, he said, whether they are a 30-year veteran or a new recruit that has hardly experienced trauma yet. He has personally seen the program help people who have already taken some steps to cope with trauma and those who are at rock bottom.
"There needed to be purpose for the pain we went through, and this is it," Kelly Piazza said. "Obviously, there's a great need for this in this community, and I'm really excited we can provide it."
Those interested may sign up to be notified when registration for the next course opens, or may sign up to start a class themself. More information can be found at firstlineresponders.com.
Those interested in supporting the program can also volunteer to provide dinner.