Executive Director, Master Firefighter
Gene has been a career firefighter for the Harrisonburg Fire Department in Harrisonburg, Va. for 10 years. He is also a member of Weyers Cave Fire Company and Verona Volunteer Fire Company with over 23 years of firefighting experience.
He is a Heavy Tactical Rescue technician, a HazMat technician, and a member of the Fire Prevention and Public Education Program.
Gene is currently pursuing his Bachelor's degree in Psychology.
Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor
Sarah's educational background includes a Bachelor's degree in psychology, and a Master's degree in counseling with a specialization in trauma and crisis counseling. She is currently completing her dissertation for a Ph.D in Human and Social Services. Her dissertation will focus on the relationship between firefighters' demographic, occupational, and mental health literacy factors and mental health treatment seeking behavior.
Her experiences range from helping children in an inpatient psychiatric hospital, to supporting at-risk families in an elementary school, to counseling firefighters who need to talk to someone who understands fire culture. She is also a firefighter spouse and is able to understand the struggles fire families face.
Gene and Sarah first began looking at services available for firefighters back in 2013 and identified a need for more comprehensive services. Upon completing her counseling degree in 2014, Sarah offered her services to members of the fire department in regards to educational and consultative services. These firefighters identified numerous problems with not only the services available for mental health support, but also the difficulty of accessing those services.
Over the last few years research has noted that first responders feel more comfortable speaking about their mental health with other first responders, and they are more likely to choose peer support over utilizing their company's EAP, chaplain, or outside service provider.
This information prompted Gene and Sarah to identify services in the area for fellow firefighters only to come to the realization that access to an educational and organized peer support program was extremely limited. After contacting a peer support program located in Illinois, Gene and Sarah decided to organize and offer a peer support program to first responders in Virginia.
VFRSS was created so that first responders have the knowledge and ability to talk about their mental wellness and family or job stressors with a peer who can relate to what their going through. If first responders can begin to talk about the issues they face then they can motivate others to do the same thing. Our independent courses are meant to educate first responders about a variety of mental health issues and to facilitate discussion about those issues. We are here to support you; the firefighter, the police officer; the dispatcher; and the EMT, and to help you learn how to better support one another.
Board of Directors
President - Sarah Thompson
Vice President - Gene Thompson
Secretary/Treasurer - Megan Mawyer
Board Member - Steve Morris