ETSU offers free mental health class for first responders of Sevier County wildfires

Sidney James Mountain Lodge in Gatlinburg (Report It! Ashley Biggens)

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – East Tennessee State University is reaching out to first responders as they continue to cope with the devastation from Gatlinburg last November.

Wildfires ripped through Sevier County, killing 14 people and damaging or destroying more than 2,400 buildings.

First responders from all around the region traveled to Sevier County to help. Elizabethton Fire Department’s Deputy Chief, Rusty Barnett, was one of them.

“The devastation is probably the worst I’ve ever seen,” Barnett said.

He said he still remembers the night he and his crew helped battle the blaze.

“It was a nightmare going in and I thought, you know it’s my responsibility to get these guys home,” he recalled.

Barnett said after the fires, the fire department brought in a crisis intervention team.

“They were really helpful asking things we didn’t know to ask,” he said.

The Elizabethton Fire Department was just one of many from our area to respond to the fires.

“It’s really opened my eyes of what stress really puts on people,” Barnett said.

Because of those wildfires, East Tennessee State University is offering a free class to all first responders leading to a certification in Mental Health First Aid.

Darla Dye is the Director of Professional Development at ETSU. She said this program will teach participants how to identify the signs and symptoms of mental health problems and how to provide initial aid before guiding the person in distress toward appropriate professional help.

“Give them some skills to deal with what they went through, the trauma they went through, and also just to help in recognizing these issues in other people,” Dye explained.

Dye said the class will help those who are on the front lines learn how to respond to situations that are unexpected, such as the devastation in Gatlinburg.

“We wanted to do it free in response to their heroic efforts,” Dye said.

Barnett said he plans to attend the class.

“As being an officer, you want to detect it as soon as possible and I think would be a great opportunity,” he said.

The class is free for first responders. The cost is $75 for anyone else.

It will take place on Wednesday, April 5 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. At ETSU at Sevierville, 2015 Red Bank Rd., Sevierville.

To register, visit and click on “currently scheduled courses” or call 800.222.3878.

Copyright 2017 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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