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Non-profit formed to help Santa Barbara County's first responders starts free counseling program

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Lance Orozco
/
KCLU
A Santa Barbara County firefighter at the 2018 Holiday Fire in Goleta, which destroyed ten homes.

One805's program offers free, confidential services to firefighters in the county.

They have some of most stressful jobs in the Tri-Counties. Firefighters have to deal with everything from dangerous wildfires to severely injured car accident victims. But, the culture among first responders has been “It’s part of the job” and “It’s what we do,” and not addressing the psychological toll it can take.

"Most of us dealt with that with alcohol...the way you'd come down from a heavy shift is you'd all go out, and have a couple of drinks," said Tony Pighetti, who was a Santa Barbara firefighter for three decades. "That might work short term, but it doesn't work long term."

The retired firefighter now runs a new program for the Santa Barbara County based non-profit One805, which is offering the county’s 750 firefighters free, confidential counseling. But, it isn't easy getting firefighters to reach out.

"We trying to stop the stigma, or break the stigma," said Pighetti.

Pighetti says they are using counselors who are familiar with the types of stresses firefighters might be dealing with at work, and at home.

The non-profit One805 organization normally provides equipment and services to first responders, but unexpectedly found itself having to stretch to help with the counseling program.

Richard Weston-Smith is the President, and Co-Founder of One805.

"Earlier this year, the organization which was providing the counseling for all of the county's first responders abruptly pulled out," said Weston-Smith. "We instantly recognized that this was far too important to let it drop, so we stepped up. We agreed to provide the counseling for all of the 750 firefighters in Santa Barbara County."

He says the counseling program costs just over $140,000 a year. One805 turned to another Santa Barbara County based non-profit for help. The organization just got word that Santa Barbara-based international aid group Direct Relief is giving One805 $144,000 to cover the costs of the first year of the program.

One805 was created in the wake of the Thomas Fire, and Montecito debris flow. It held a huge concert, with stars like Katy Perry performing to thank first responders for their work.

But, Weston-Smith says they realized that the organization could do more, by raising money to help supply fire agencies with equipment, and training they couldn’t otherwise afford. The county's fire chiefs serve on an advisory panel, helping to decide how the money raised will be used.

One805 has held a series of concerts to raise money for its efforts, and has one in the works for next spring. Weston-Smith says they are hoping Direct Relief’s gift will spur the community, and especially businesses and corporations, to step up with long term funding for the counseling program.

Meanwhile, the head of the program says they are reaching out to the hundreds of firefighters in Santa Barbara County to let them know the free, and confidential counseling support is available.

"The hardest part is calling, and making that commitment to ask for help," said Pighetti.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.