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First Responder Mental Health Resilience Conference October 2022

The Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council is proud to offer our inaugural First Responder Mental Health Resilience Conference.

Join us for this exciting virtual experience which will provide leading-edge approaches to foster mental health resilience in first responders. Every Thursday in October (6, 13, 20 & 27) 2022 from 10:00am to 2:30pm.

Each day includes a featured subject matter expert speaker and practical and applicable skills workshops specifically tailored for first responders.

Registration is closed.

The conference will held be on Zoom. Most sessions will be recorded and available for future use.

Conference Line Up 

Day 1 – Thursday, October 6, 2022
Day 2 – Thursday, October 13, 2022
Day 3 – Thursday, October 20, 2022
Day 4 – Thursday, October 27, 2022
Information about how to receive Special Credit from OEMS

Click here for more information about our speakers

Click here for conference resources

Day 1 – Thursday, October 6, 2022 10:00am to 2:45pm

10:00am – 10:15am Opening Address: Lt. Col. Tom Grady, Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office, WRHSAC

10:15am – 11:45am Featured Speaker: Dr. Stephen Porges, PhD
First Responder Panel Discussion Team: Sgt. James Sullivan, University of Massachusetts Amherst Police Department; Chief Philip Wonkka, Erving Fire Department; Laurie Lankowski McComb, South County EMS and adjunct faculty of Greenfield Community College Paramedic Department; Nina Barszcz, Dispatch Administrator, Westfield Public Safety
Title: Polyvagal Theory Applied to Mental Health


Join the conversation with Dr. Porges and first responders to understand the Polyvagal Theory and how our nervous systems impact our responses to the environment. By understanding the Polyvagal Theory, we can go from states of shutdown or mobilization to a state of safety and connection. We will discuss psychological stress injury, injury prevention, and the potential for healing and integration. The first hour (10:15-11:15) will consist of a First Responder Panel Discussion, followed by 30 minutes (11:15-11:45) of Q&A with Dr. Porges. First responder disciplines represented on the panel include: Police, Fire, EMS, Dispatch. Fielding participant questions from the Zoom Chat: Lillian Lennox, Moderator

Objectives: 1. Describe how the Polyvagal Theory can demystify several clinical symptoms related to psychiatric diagnoses (e.g., PTSD, autism, depression, and anxiety disorders). 2. Explain how deficits in the regulation of the Social Engagement System relate to the core features of several behavioral and psychiatric disorders. 3. Describe a neural process (neuroception) that evaluates risk in the environment and triggers adaptive neural circuits that promote either social interactions or defensive behaviors.

Session resources: Dr. Stephen Porges, Polyvagal Theory: A Science of Safety. Additional resources available at

Note: This session will not be recorded due to speaker contract limitations. Please attend the live session.

12:00pm – 1:00pm Skills Workshop #1: Deb Dana, LCSW
Title:   Polyvagal Theory in Practice

Guided by Polyvagal Theory, we have a deep appreciation of the ways experience shapes the nervous system and of the pathways that lead to healing. With an updated map of the autonomic circuits that underlie behaviors and beliefs, we have a new understanding of the patterns of fight, flight, and shut down and can reliably move out of adaptive survival responses into the autonomically regulated state of safety that is necessary for wellbeing. In this presentation we’ll explore how to use the body’s regulating circuits to regain a sense of safety and skills to engage the nervous system’s natural pathways to regulation.

Session resources: Deb Dana, A Beginner’s Guide to Polyvagal Theory. Additional resources available at

Note: This session will not be recorded due to speaker contract limitations. Please attend the live session.

1:30pm – 2:30pm Skills Workshop #2: Stephanie D’Angelo
Title:   Be the Calm in the Storm: Polyvagal-Informed Embodied Mindfulness (PIEM)

Real-Time Stress Survival Skills: Aren’t we all just seeking peace in a chaotic world? Be the Calm is a Polyvagal Informed Embodied Mindfulness skills and drills session. It is a 60-minute online workshop to empower individuals with stress survival skills that can be felt in real-time, used anywhere, and anytime. The experiential session cultivates autonomic flexibility increasing the capacity for self-regulation, increased physiological safety and overall well-being. Participants benefit from integration of vagal toning exercises including breathwork, gentle movement, and other somatic practice skills to calm the nervous system and reduce stress.

Objectives: 1. Learn skills that increase vagal tone and help regulate the nervous system.
2. Reduce stress and increase wellbeing through breath and gentle movement.
3. Increase Somatic Intelligence through mindful movement and interoceptive awareness. Integrating polyvagal informed principles, embodied mindfulness, and self-care using trauma-informed best practices in cultivating wellbeing strategies.

Session resources: Stephanie D’Angelo, Polyvagal Informed Embodied Mindfulness: An Online Program. Additional resources available at

Note: This session will be recorded and available following the conference. 

DAY 2 – Thursday October 13, 2022 10:00am to 2:15pm

10:00am-10:15am Opening Address: Chief Jennifer Gundersen, South Hadley Police

10:15am -11:15am Featured Speakers: Joanne Barros, LMHC, DMH and Dr. Victor Petreca, PhD, DNP
Title: Best Practices for Treatment Refusers and Resisters


This presentation covers some of the most common reasons for treatment resistance/refusal and the associated effects. Taking a multi-faceted approach to this topic, the presentation addresses new and innovative ways to address resistance and refusals in order to maximize clinical effectiveness. The goal is for a remediation of symptoms and the ability to improve quality of life outcomes. Expanded awareness and knowledge around clinical needs of the population served, increases buy in and job fulfillment. Satisfaction in the work and a sense of increased impact on positive outcomes also correlate to better work and life quality. A first responder’s mental health and resilience also improve with awareness of conditions, disorders, and situations they encounter.

Objectives: 1. Identify most common causes of resistance/refusals; 2. Associate impact of resistance with corresponding outcomes; 3. Determine effective ways to address resistance/refusals.

Note: This session will be recorded and available following the conference. 

11:30am – 12:30pm Skills Workshop #1: Jeremy Segall, MA, RDT, LCAT
Title: Organizational Well-being: Enhancing Internal & External Resilience that Supports a Culture of Workforce Wellness

This presentation focuses on providing an understanding of resiliency and holistic well-being as it relates to the psychosocial stressors of the workplace. The presentation seeks to explore stress reduction and coping tools for both at work and home. Establishing understanding of response to stressful situations while focusing on eight dimensions of well-being, this presentation also identifies when coping is healthy versus unhealthy, and when additional help is necessary. The presentation includes steps to assess and alleviate your own stress in the moment, as well as ways to support colleagues. Learn why wellness should be a strategic priority and what the benefits are. Discover how you can get involved and begin to transform the psychological safety culture of your workplace by starting from within, and understand how to be an advocate for change to hardwire resiliency across your organization.

Objectives: 1. Apply learning about the current challenges and climate that impacts workforce wellness and how to leverage the 8 dimensions of wellness to foster a supportive approach and work environment; 2. Discuss strategic solutions that institutions can use to create a more resilient culture for individuals, teams, and the overall organization; 3. Understand the crucial link between workforce wellness, quality, patient safety, and sustained well-being both personally and professionally; 4. Deploy the Helping Healers Heal (H3) framework to develop a holistic workforce wellness culture for you and your team.

Note: This session will be recorded and available following the conference. 

1:00pm – 2:00pm Skills Workshop #2: Sam Chase, RISE Kripalu
Title:   Keeping the Body in Mind: Embodied Tools for Resilience

As a first responder, how you train your attention to assess your surroundings has huge consequences in critical moments where milliseconds make a difference. But we don’t often dedicate the same time and training to paying attention to what’s going on inside. Scientists call this interoception – a literal ‘sixth sense’ that attunes us to what’s happening within the body. Recent research connects the skill of interoception to our capacity for resilience, suggesting that our ability tune into what’s inside impacts our ability handle what’s going on around us. In this workshop, we’ll explore several evidence-based exercises for building interoception and sharpening your inner attention. These tools integrate easily into the rhythms of the day, so that the time you invest inside will leave you ready, responsive and resilient in the moments that matter most.

Objectives: 1. Understand the relationship between breath and the body’s relaxation response; 2. Train in the skill of the Complete Break to promote down-regulation; 3. Understand how interoception (internal bodily awareness) builds resilience; 4. Train in the skill of Breath Meditation to promote interoception.

Note: This session will be recorded and available following the conference. 

DAY 3 – Thursday October 20, 2022 10:00am to 2:45pm

10:00am – 10:15am Opening Address: Bruce Arbour, MDiv, HTP; US Navy veteran and former call firefighter; Assistant Chief Chaplain with Mass Corps of Fire Chaplains and member of Western Mass Critical Incident Stress Management Team

10:15am-11:15am Featured Speaker: Rollin McCraty, Ph.D.
Title: Maintaining your Composure in the Midst of Chaos and Confusion

This presentation will discuss a practical framework of resilience and the importance of learning and practicing energy self-regulation techniques. Practices shown to dramatically impact first responders ability to maintain inner poise, composure and clarity, even in rapidly changing, complex and chaotic environments. Dr. McCraty will provide an overview of new research on the physiology of optimal performance and a measurable state called ‘physiological coherence’ and how this optimal state increases cognitive performance, health and well-being. 

Objectives: 1. Learn the fundamentals of resilience and the importance of energy management skills; 2. Gain an understanding of physiology of optimal cognitive and physical functioning; 3. Understand how heart-brain coherence improves a wide range of cognitive functions; 4. Gain an understanding of why smart professionals can sometimes do really dumb things and how to prevent it.

Session resources: Jorina Elbers and Rollin McCraty, HeartMath approach to self-regulation and psychosocial well-being; Rollin McCraty and Mike Atkinson, Resilience Training Program Reduces Physiological and Psychological Stress in Police Officers. Additional resources available at

Note: This session will be recorded and available following the conference. 

11:30am – 12:30pm Skills Workshop #1: Jennifer Hart, Senior Probation Officer, Wellness & Peer Support Coordinator, San Diego County Probation Department
Title:   Creating Calm in Chaos

The work we do is rewarding and meaningful, but it is also physically and emotionally taxing. Daily, we face challenging, dangerous, and draining situations. We are impacted by limited resources, uncertainty, and constant change. If unmanaged, this operational stress can diminish our performance, deplete our energy, and erode our wellbeing. As the demands of our jobs continue to increase, learning to build and sustain resilience is more vital than ever.

In this skills workshop, you will learn practical tools to manage your energy, diminish the harmful impacts of operational stress and increase your personal resilience. HeartMath’s research-based tools are designed to help you reduce energy drains and restore calm so you can maintain balance and composure, even in the face of chaos and adversity.

Objectives: 1. Recognize sources of depletion (energy drain); 2. Explain the importance of resetting after a stressful event; 3. Identify three strategies for building and sustaining resilience.

Session resources: Heartmath, Depletion to Renewal Grid. Additional resources available at

Note: This session will be recorded and available following the conference. 

1:00pm – 2:30pm Skills Workshop #2: Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, Rel. M., M.A., Ph.D., Senior Vice-President and Director of Shay Moral Injury Center at Volunteers of America; co-facilitators Rev. Madonna J. Arsenault, M.Div., CSD, and Chaplain Yuri Yamamoto

Title:   Recognizing and Addressing Moral Distress and Moral Injury in First Responders

This workshop will provide information about conditions that put first responders at risk of experiencing moral distress that, when unaddressed, can intensify into moral injury. The workshop will cover the relationship between them and how to recognize them, as well as strategies that support recovery from them. It will include a demonstration of an online, small group, peer-facilitated program for first responders offered by Volunteers of America, Resilience Strength Time (VOA|ReST), designed to mitigate moral distress and forestall or lessen the intensity of moral injury.

Objectives: This workshop will enable participants to: 1)Define moral injury in its two forms. 2) Explain the relationships among moral conflict, moral distress, and moral injury. 3) Explain the difference of moral injury from PTSD. 4) Describe two strategies for processing moral distress.

Note: This session will be recorded and available following the conference. 

DAY 4 – Thursday October 27, 2022, 10:00am to 2:15pm

10:00am – 10:15am Opening Address: Chief Michael Wynn, Pittsfield Police Department

10:15am -11:15am Featured Speaker: Tom Greenhalgh, LICSW
Title:   Peer Support and Emerging Sciences: Blending the New with the Traditional for Enhanced Wellness and Resiliency

Peer support has existed for decades. Research over that time has shown it to be very useful in helping with life challenges. Emerging sciences such as neuroplasticity show how the brain can change in ways once not thought possible. In this presentation we will explore some of these emerging sciences and how they relate and can be integrated into peer support, with a goal of enhancing wellness and resiliency.

Objectives: Attendees will be able to: 1. list at least 3 benefits of peer support for dealing with life challenges; 2. list at least 3 emerging sciences that can impact wellness and resiliency.

11:30am – 12:30pm Skills Workshop #1: Tom Greenhalgh, LICSW
Title:  Enhancing My Personal and Professional Skills for Enhanced Wellness and Resiliency

Very often caretakers spend all their time taking care of others, often at the expense of themselves. “I don’t have time for that” is often heard when someone is asked what they do for themselves. Not recharging their personal battery, caretakers often pay a significant price in terms of their own health, wellness and resiliency, but also deliver services to others that may not be at a level they perceive it to be.

Attendees of this workshop will explore a self-reflection and evaluation as to where they may stand in terms of how well they are doing in terms of self-care, suggestions for improvement, and tools they can carry forward to those that they serve.

Objectives: Attendees will be able to: 1. Evaluate themselves in eight domains of Wellness and Resiliency; 2. Develop a self-care/resiliency plan for themselves; 3. List at least 3 items that they can suggest to those that they care for to enhance their tools in these areas.

1:00pm – 2:00pm Skills Workshop #2: Robin Carnes, MBA, WAET, Certified Yoga Therapist, Certified YOQI Qigong Flow Associate Instructor, Certified iRest Meditation Instructor
Title: Healthy Sleep: Your #1 Resilience Skill

At a time when more people than ever suffer with sleep issues, the latest science reveals just how essential quality sleep is for every aspect of our mental and physical health. First Responders face elevated risks for sleep problems due to the nature of the jobs they do in service to their communities.

In this workshop you will: be briefed on the latest findings on the essential functions of sleep, learn the underlying cause of most common sleep dysfunctions, and learn how to address common sleep problems through simple lifestyle changes and mind-body practices.

The heart of the workshop will be experiencing a variety of evidence-based practices to support and enhance your sleep, including a guided iRest meditation designed specifically for sleep. Participants will come away with practical materials and recorded practices to improve this essential function of human life.

Objectives: 1. Recognize the severe mental and physical impact of inadequate sleep; 2. Learn the neurobiological cause of most common types of sleep problems; 3. Understand the mechanism of specific mind-body skills works to improve sleep quality; 4. Know how to practice 3 easy to learn evidence-based skills for improving sleep quality and quantity.

Session resources: iRest Meditation for Deep Rest with Robin Carnes

Note: This session will be recorded and available following the conference. 

2:00-2:15 pm Conference Wrap Up: Lillian Lennox LMHC, C-iRest, E-RYT 500 and Raine Brown, Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council

Click here for speakers’ bios


Note: This conference may be eligible for Special Credit from OEMS; proper documentation must be submitted. You will need to submit a separate application for each day of the conference that you attend.

1.Use the Special Credit Application (section B only). To access a copy with the justification already in place, click here .

2.Provide the Agenda (or syllabus) and proof of program attendance.

3. Provide justification that the Program satisfies AR 2-212 requirements for EMS continuing education. This paragraph will serve as justification. To access a copy with the justification already in place, click here .

4. Follow instructions to submit documentation.  Do not wait, as you must receive a continuing ed approval number from OEMS, and these applications  can take several weeks to process.