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Mont. first responders graduate from crisis intervention training academy

Missoula’s Crisis Intervention Team training is based on actual incidents and focuses on communication, inter-agency networking

By Zoë Buchli

MISSOULA, Mont. — Demand for mental health crisis training is high in Missoula, and 33 more local first responders will start next week as certified in crisis intervention training.

Staff from the Missoula Rural Fire District, Veterans Affairs police, Mineral County Sheriff’s Office, Mobile Support Team and other Missoula agencies spent their Friday morning running through six scenarios dealing with mental health crisis calls.

“Our agency has seen an increase in crisis-type calls,” John Muir, an MRFD firefighter, said.

The scenarios are the culmination of a weeklong academy hosted by Missoula’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). The annual academy trains law enforcement, detention staff, Mobile Support Team medics, clinicians and others on how to de-escalate situations involving public disturbances, family crises and suicide intervention.

Each scenario is different, but based on real-life situations.

“Understanding how to communicate better, understanding the illness behind the crisis and understanding the resources available, it’s been pretty eye-opening,” Muir said of skills he learned this week through the 40-hour academy. This was his first time getting trained through CIT.

Ann Douglas, director of Missoula’s newly opened Riverwalk Crisis Receiving Center, said the academy has been instrumental in getting insight on how people are getting connected to the center and what first responders are seeing outside of the facility.

The center opened in December, and just started operating 24/7. Riverwalk offers wrap-around services for anyone 18 or older. Therapists, peer support specialists, registered nurses and crisis stabilization workers will be on-site to offer comprehensive mental health support.

“In my role as a firefighter, it’s helpful to know that’s an option,” Muir said of the center. “Even if I can’t provide transport or I can’t assist this person, if I de-escalate the situation and let them know (Riverwalk) is an option then that’s going to help that person get to recovery.”

Inter-agency networking is also a benefit of the academy, Douglas added, saying it’s been good to see how Missoula’s broad swath of first responders collaborate.

CIT, run by Theresa Williams, is expanding its reach every year. She said she’s gotten such a large volume of requests for academy training she had to turn a few people down this year, which is a good problem to have.

“It means we need to increase our training opportunities,” Williams said.

CIT is without a permanent line of funding that allows the team to run the academy and other programs, as Missoula’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money dries up, Williams said. CIT announced a large federal grant in the fall, but that’s a temporary source of money._

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