Fairfax County Opens Public Safety Wellness Center In Fair Oaks

FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA — It was a smell. That’s what Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Chief John Butler remembered one of the fire chiefs at a conference he attended last week had said.

“He talked about a certain perfume that if he smelled it, it took him back to an incident,” Butler said. “An incident where there were fatalities in the vehicle. A perfume bottle had burst and he was there as a paramedic. He spent way too long around that smell and now he can sniff it across the room.

“Another person talked about a hospital substance that was used to cover up a murdered person. And that household substance, he can’t seem to shake that. It’s amazing that we started all talking about these things and we probably ended up with about six of those types of stories.”

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Butler shared this conversation with a group of local officials who gathered on Monday to mark the opening of Fairfax County’s new Public Safety Wellness Center.

“Post traumatic stress is a real thing and kind of cumulative in regard to how it impacts a person’s mind, soul, and body, the whole person,” Butler said. “And we have to take the stigma off this. The days of being tough and ‘I can handle anything and everything’ sometimes has not be helpful in public safety.”

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The wellness center is the first of its kind in the area, offering a variety of counseling services to public safety employees from Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax.

“All clinical services to include trauma informed care, substance abuse services, stress management, anything you could think of in terms of clinical work that we’re going to do to provide to our public safety personnel,” Vera Daniel, director of the Fairfax County Police Department Health and Wellness Division, told Patch on Monday.

Jeff McKay, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said that it was important for public safety employees to know that systems were in place to support their mental and physical wellness.

“This program that we’re here celebrating the opening of today has one singular goal, and that is to keep our public safety personnel healthy in mind and body,” he said.

McKay also noted that the center, which is in an office building near Fair Oaks Mall, makes it easier for public safety personnel to access its services.

“The fact that its convenient for them to be able to take advantage of this programming is also really important, because we know that there’s a lot of people out there in public safety in particular, that carry burdens or things they see out in the field. We want to make it convenient, easy to protect their privacy to be able to come in here and get the support that they need.”

“Police officers and firefighters see things that are not normal, and they see things that are not normal at a rate much higher than the rest of the population,” said Fairfax County police Chief Kevin Davis.

To be able to have a place where our officers can go and talk about their experiences, to make sure they are in the best place mentally, to be able to serve this community is the absolute way forward.

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