Four-legged friends helping Hanford Fire Department with mental health

HANFORD, Calif. (KFSN) -- From devastating home fires to heart-wrenching car wrecks, firefighters on the front lines see it all.

To help them cope, the firefighters of the Hanford Fire department are getting a little from some four-legged friends.

Two dogs will be the newest additions to the department in a few weeks, serving as therapy dogs for the fire crews.

"This is another way for us to get our mind off the things we go through every day," says Connor Kurtz.

Kurtz is one of the two firefighters who will also serve as a handler.

The newborn pups are being donated from the California Service Dog Academy, a non-profit that usually helps get veterans service dogs.

This is the first fire department the group will help, and they are training the dogs before they head to their new home in Hanford.

"We're having the firefighters send us recordings of all the sounds at the fire station," says Rebecca Corso. "We're gong to start playing those sounds, and play them while eating so they can have a good association with those sounds."

Chief Steve Pendergrass says the dogs will be part of their behavioral health program.

"First responders have seen a suicide increase," he said. "It's one of the largest demographics out there. What they're finding is that it's PTSD, the macho syndrome that I want to be like everyone else. We don't know what our breaking point is. We all have one."

The dogs and their handlers could be called to scenes, debriefings, or they even stay at the department overnight to help crews keep calm.

Kurtz hopes to introduce the program to other departments.

"There are people out there struggling that need an outlet," Kurtz said.

The two dogs will officially be part of the Hanford Fire department in June.
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