Ending firefighter mental health stigma through the LA County Fire Peer Support Team with Jake Windell and Echo.

In this 51st episode of Therapy Dog Talk, I spoke with Los Angeles County Firefighter Jake Windell about how he partners with Echo, a 5 year old Yellow Labrador, to end the stigma of mental health for firefighters through the LA County Fire Peer Support Team. A self-described “Psychologist by Proxy”, Jake was raised with 32 years of psychology conversations around the dinner table with his parents who both work as psychologists and incorporate dogs into their mental health practices. Combining their example with his lifelong love of dogs and spending time with the First Responder Therapy Dogs at wildfire base camps, Jake knew that bringing a dog onto their peer support team would have huge potential for helping his fellow firefighters.

Around the time that Jake convinced his department that a Therapy Dog would aid in firefighter mental health, Echo was looking for someone new to help. Trained by the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation, she had spent two year as a PTSD Service Dog helping a military veteran to regain his life. Out of appreciation for how she helped him, he donated her back to the foundation to offer the same help to someone else in need. Echo’s trainers, Tom and Terry Tackett, realized that her greatest reward was being pet so when they heard that Jake was looking for a Therapy Dog for the peer support team, they reached out to see if she was a good match. Spoiler alert: it was.

Jake loves to see how Echo has been a game-changer for firefighter mental health not only in their own department in Santa Clarita, California, but also for neighboring departments. In addition to traveling together to support other firefighters, Jake and Echo have inspired five additional Therapy Dogs into their own department as well as helped up to twenty additional departments create their own Therapy Dog programs. It’s safe to say they are saving lives in more ways than one.

If you’re ready to learn more about how Jake and Echo are making an impact on firefighter mental health, let’s dive in:

In this episode, we discuss …

  • Where Jake found his inspiration to bring a Therapy Dog onto the team.
  • How other departments have since been inspired to bring dogs on board for their firefighters.
  • What Jake does to make sure both he and Echo have the support they need as well.

Key moments you won’t want to miss:

  • [01:42] Jake introduces Echo and shares the goal of the LA County Fire Peer Support Team—to end the stigma of mental health with firefighters.
  • [02:23] Patriotic Service Dog Foundation originally trained Echo as a PTSD Service Dog for a military veteran. She changed his life over the two years they worked together and he decided that she had more work to do so returned her to the foundation. 
  • [03:12] Echo’s highest reward is being pet so the foundation reached out to Jake to see if she would be a good match for their peer support team and help improve firefighter mental health.
  • [03:37] Over the last 10 years, most fire departments have removed dogs from the firehouses due to liability from no set training or requirements for the dogs.
  • [04:04] Jake has always been a dog person and introduced the idea of bringing a Therapy Dog into the fire station as part of the peer support team.
  • [05:14] Self described as a Psychologist By Proxy, Jake describes how he’s had 32 years of psychology at the dinner table from his parents who are both psychologists and use dogs in their mental health practices
  • [05:52] Jake’s department now has six Therapy Dogs and they’ve helped up to 20 other fire departments create a Therapy Dog program to change the stigma in their own departments.
  • [06:30] Jake looks at Echo as every firefighter’s therapy dog and travels to neighboring fire departments as needed to help other firefighters as well.
  • [07:12] Echo and Jake both find release in spending time at the beach and Jake can tell when she’s spent and it’s time for some rest and relaxation and advocate for her as needed.
  • [08:41] Jake loves to see firefighters get down on all fours, playing tug, and loving on her to take a breath and ground themselves by spending time with a dog. 
  • [09:45] Echo was donated to the department but lives with Jake and is his permanent partner at work and in life.
  • [10:24] At home, Echo has another dog and they enjoy playing together and interacting with Jake’s toddler.
  • [10:52] Even tho he knew what the potential was, Jake didn’t fully understand what a need Echo was until they began to interact with other firefighters through their work together.
  • [11:30] Jake has enjoyed the support and love he’s found from other working dogs in the Instagram community.
  • [12:54] We talk about the volunteer First Responder Therapy Dog teams and how meeting them at the wildfire basecamps helped inspire Jake to bring a dog onto the peer support team.
  • [14:10] Having Therapy Dogs in the stations has helped firefighters to get a little bit of stress release and a feeling of home—which has been a big gamechanger for firefighter mental health.
  • [15:04] I get curious and Jake schools me on the history of Dalmatians in fire stations including their role and how their deafness led them to be societal outcasts but the breed of choice for protecting the horses.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I do. Give it a watch or a listen and then let me know in the community which part you found the most helpful!

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Therapy Dog Talk is a podcast where I interview a different team each week via Instagram Live. If you enjoyed this episode please find us over at Apple, Google, or Spotify and give us a follow after you leave a review.

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