South St. Paul and West St. Paul honored by the League of Minnesota Cities for fire personnel mental health program

(Sept. 13, 2021 – St. Paul, MN) The cities of South St. Paul and West St. Paul are the joint winners of the 2021 City of Excellence Award in this year’s 20,000+ population category for the South Metro Fire Department’s implementation of the Par 360 program to address mental health.

The City of Excellence Awards are given each year by the League of Minnesota Cities in three population categories and one topical category. The awards recognize cities for outstanding programs or projects. Each winning city will receive a plaque, a check for $1,000, and recognition in League publications and promotional activities throughout the coming year.

Created in 2008 through the merger of the South St. Paul and West St. Paul fire departments, the South Metro Fire Department (SMFD) is a career fire department that provides fire and EMS services to over 40,000 citizens and 11 square miles of coverage area. In 2020, the department responded to 6,760 calls, of which 5,021 were for emergency medical service.

Due to the nature of their work, public safety workers are more likely to experience mental health conditions such as PTSD, as well as unhealthy coping mechanisms, and higher rates of suicide. In 2018, newly promoted Fire Chief Mark Juelfs met with not one but two of his personnel who confided in him that they had or previously had a suicide plan. Juelfs said his training had not prepared him for those moments.

In response, Juelfs sought out mental health support for his department and found a newly developed program called Par 360. The Par 360 program is a yearly subscription program providing consultation, training, and emergency response to fire department leaders and firefighters. It was developed by Dr. Margaret Gavian, medical director for the Minnesota Fire Initiative.

Through Juelfs’ leadership, the support of the two firefighters who spoke to the department about their struggles, and the work of Gavian, the program has been implemented and embraced by the department, even as the COVID-19 pandemic shifts how parts of the program are delivered. An important emphasis on privacy has helped to encourage high participation.

The 2021 League awards were judged by panels of city officials including representatives from League boards and committees. More League award winners for City of Excellence, elected and appointed officials, as well as the Sustainable City award have been or will be announced at city council meeting presentations throughout August, September, and October.

About the League

The League of Minnesota Cities is a membership association dedicated to promoting excellence in local government. The League, governed by a Board of Directors consisting of local elected and appointed city officials, serves its more than 800 member cities through advocacy, education and training, policy development, risk management, and other services.