Fortifying Our First Responders

Retired Billings Police Officer Justin Bickford is not alone. An on-duty shooting, followed by personal trauma, led to his administrative leave, mental health treatment, and eventual retirement from the force. An inpatient program in Tucson, focusing on PTSD, anxiety, depression, and anger, helped him out of “mental health hell.”

Back in Billings, he took T-6’s Getting through the Grind program for first responders. “I was overwhelmed talking to strangers from the other side of the country who knew what I was going through and were doing what I wanted to do to help other cops and first responders,” Bickford says. “This is the type of information that I absolutely believe in my heart would have saved my career had it been available to me in October of 2020.“

T-6 Advanced Training and Career Development expanded programming last year to Billings, Glendive, and Great Falls. The nonprofit helps police, fire, EMT professionals, and military service members and veterans handle job stressors to maintain a successful professional and personal life. Its educational programming and a new statewide peer-support network help first responders help each other.

Great Falls Officer Kevin Supalla was part of a Peer-to-Peer support group for several years and now looks forward to implementing T-6’s “structured and proven techniques for helping other officers with mental health issues that arise from our profession.” Supalla says, “Every day an officer hits the streets or is called away from home, it is stressful not only for the officer but for their family as well.”

Bickford completed training in February to become a T-6 regional facilitator. “I was beyond proud and humbled to have been selected, still am,” he says. “For me personally, this is my path now…. I can serve those that serve,” he says.

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