AFD Peer Support Team

The Austin Fire Department’s Peer Support Team (PST) is a mechanism for employees and their families, providing support to personnel experiencing personal and/or work-related stress. It also offers help during and following critical or traumatic incidents resulting from performance of duty. AFD’s PST is part of the department’s comprehensive response to a critical incident. The team is comprised of members trained in peer support, and functions as an adjunct to the department’s psychologists. Our goal is to minimize the likelihood of traumatization to firefighters and their families. Interactions are confidential within the limits prescribed by department policy and state law.

We provide Austin Fire Department personnel, both sworn and civilian, with psychological and emotional support through pre-incident education; spousal/family support; on-scene assistance and demobilization intervention; post-incident discussions; and/or one-on-one interactions. PST members have received specialized training in crisis management techniques and work in conjunction with mental health professionals who focus on providing support to emergency services personnel.

Contacts

AFD Peer Support

Phone: (512) 974-0230
Phone: (888) 4-AFD-HELP

Becky Ackerman

Becky Ackerman
Role: Peer Support Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Joined AFD: 1994

Hobbies/things I enjoy: 

  • going to the movies
  • spending time with my family

Why I wanted to be a PST member:

I care about people and I know how difficult life can be. Everyone needs someone in certain times of their life. Firefighters see and experience things that only a firefighter can understand which infiltrates all other parts of our lives. We must take care of each other, we are family. I desire to be there for anyone who might benefit from my support.

Life experiences:

  • sexual abuse survivor as a young teenager
  • attempted suicide as a young adult
  • divorces
  • death of loved ones
  • raising of nieces & nephew (traumatic life experiences) as my own (family court system, visitation, counseling, unhealthy relationship with biological parents)
  • violating incident within the fire service
  • drug addiction and alcoholism of family members including my children (Niece and nephew)
  • son (nephew) with mental illness
  • raising young grandson due to his mother passing away 10 hours after giving birth and son’s inability to care for a child

Kat Casey

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Role: Peer Support Team Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Eric Crayton

Eric Crayton
Role: Peer Support Team Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Ben Davis

Ben Davis
Role: Peer Support Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Years of service:  Joined AFD in 2012

Hobbies things I enjoy:  I enjoy hiking, fly fishing,  building guitars, spending time with my family and friends

Why I wanted to be a team member:  I wanted to be a peer supporter because I love being a firefighter and realize that in this career we see and experience many things other jobs don’t. To enjoy this job and life I know some times we need to work through some of those experiences

Life experiences:  Throughout my life I’ve lost several people close to me. Before being a firefighter I was able to help others through tough experiences in life because of what I experienced. If by just being a listening ear I can help someone continue in this amazing job I feel being a part of this program was worth it

Brian Davis

Brian Davis
Role: Peer Support Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Years of Service:  14 Years, class 108

Hobbies/Things I enjoy:  Hiking, camping, fishing, having fun with my Wife and 4 kids.  Always deep into a construction project or working on my 1969 F100 Truck…

Life experiences and being a PST member:   I have always believed that our lives are best described as stories, complete with chapters, plot twists, highs and lows, and rescues.  Every chapter carries the story line forward, and plays into the next.  A part of my story is the loss of a parent while in my teens, which led to seeking out counseling to help work through it.  I married a wonderful woman who struggled with her own past with a psychologically abusive father.  Together my bride and I have walked 17 years of marriage, complete with building our own house by hand, marriage counseling, a traumatic child birth, and the struggle of adrenal fatigue.  We have raised two boys to their teenage years (God help us!) and fostered 2 sisters.  In February 2018 we adopted our girls, ages 9 and 3.  The things we have walked through have always led to conversations with others, and the trials we have overcome have been a strength to share.  We are “more beautiful for the scars” because it’s made us who we are.  Being a part of the Peer Support Team allows me to share and help others work through their struggles, or get the help that all of us need from time to time.  We are meant to live in community, and this is the role I love playing most!

Andre de la Reza

Andre de la Reza
Role: Peer Support Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Years of Service: 17

Hobbies/things I enjoy: Sailing, Bagpiping, hiking

Why I wanted to be a PST member:  I have had multiple calls in my career that hung over me for a long time, it was only until I got to talk to a PST member that I realized it was normal and not an indicator of weakness.  I am now a firm believer that you have to keep your mind and emotions as strong as body and skills to be able to do the job.  I want to help others like I was helped.

Life experiences that I want to share:  As I go through life as a firefighter, a father of twins, husband to a working wife and member of multiple organizations – I find there are a lot of little stressors along the way. Sometimes being able to talk to people about them takes the bite out of them and makes them manageable.  As for the big stressors, well there are a lot of resources available to help deal with them (confidentially and effectively) as well.

Dana Dieterich

Dana Dieterich
Role: Peer Support Team Coordinator
Phone: (512) 974-0230

Years of Service: 14, Class 108

Hobbies/things I enjoy: Camping, gardening, reading, listening to audiobooks and talk radio, spending time with my family/pets, and cooking.

Why I wanted to be a PST member: I am 100% behind supporting emotional/behavioral health.  I have studied “self-help” resources and wanted to share my personal experiences with my firefighter family.

Life experiences that I want to share:  During high school, I lost two of my best friends to car wrecks.  I lost another best friend to suicide while in college.  In the past 3 years, I have lost both of my beloved parents and an AFD Class 108 classmate/friend/hero.  I have experienced many “lows” from these losses…grief is a humbling rollercoaster ride! My two beautiful sons and a strong marriage keep me grounded and driven to make the most out of every day.

Jerome Estrada

Jerome Estrada
Role: Peer Support Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Dan Fiero (Retired)

Dan Fiero
Role: Peer Support Chaplain
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Joined AFD: 1987

Hobbies/things I enjoy:

  • playing/singing in church band
  • camping
  • woodworking
  • yardwork
  • travel
  • working out

Why I wanted to be a PST member:

Many times a person who wants to be on the Peer Support Team realizes there are stressors related to the job we so much love. We love taking care of others, to help when needed. But we sometimes don’t take care of ourselves, especially our mental wellness. I had a critical call where I performed CPR on an infant and the infant died. This had a profound impact on me and I sought out help because the thoughts and feelings of the event just wouldn’t go away. This is when I realized how important it is to have peers to be available to help us get through difficult times. I was blessed to have a Peer Supporter help me and I have paying it back ever since. It warms my heart to be able to help my peers work through difficult times.

Life experiences:

As you can imagine, having been in the department for so many years has provided me with very good insight into how the job affects our mental wellness. I worked 20 years on a rig, 8-1/2 years as an Arson Investigator, 18 months in Professional Standards and 18 months as the Peer Support Coordinator. I’ve worked at high volume as well as low volume stations. I’ve seen the same stuff each of you has seen and a bit more. While at Arson, I served as the Fire Fatality Officer/Analyst and responded to every fire death for 5+ years. I also had to witness the autopsies of every imaginable type of person, young and old. Having worked in PSO I am better equipped to assist our firefighters understand “The System” and how they will be best served when navigating the department rules/policies. I have been married to the same lady for 33 years, have two grown children, both of whom are raising children and working hard to provide for their respective families. I have also served as Worship Leader in my church for over 9 years which provides me with a spiritual perspective on life. Through my church I am active in a disaster response group that responds to natural disasters to deal with the aftermath, to help people try to get their lives back on track. Although retired, I stay very engaged with the AFD Peer Support network as well as helping people outside of the department. Life is good…with and without life's challenges! I have been and continue to be blessed.

Kelly Gall

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Role: Peer Support Team Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Joined AFD:  2002/Class 107

Hobbies/things I enjoy:  

I enjoy working and spending time with my family, as well as my fire family and friends

Exercising and maintaining physical and mental health are very important to me

Why I wanted to be a PST member:

It has always been important to me to be supportive of individuals that are experiencing challenging times by listening to them and helping them if I can.  I feel like due to the nature and dynamics of our job, at times, we can be presented with interesting and challenging issues to deal with. I believe that Emergency Responders have the ability to relate to/help other Emergency Responders based on our shared experiences.  I know that something as simple as sitting with an individual and letting them talk while listening may have a powerfully positive impact on helping them cope with a difficult issue.

Life experiences:

For almost 12 of my 17 years of service I have worked at Station 1 in downtown Austin.  Additionally, throughout the course of my career, I have had the honor and privilege of being able to serve the Department in many areas including Education Services, Special Operations, PIO, CSG, Honor Guard, Recruiting/Pub Ed, Dispatch/Communications, Awards Committee, and a variety of other Educational and Professional Development Committees.

By having the opportunity to serve the Department in many different capacities, I have been able to gain valuable knowledge, experience and skills in regards to forming and maintaining healthy and effective interpersonal relationships, as well as teams.  Through creating and forming these positive relationships with other members, I have been able to learn and grow from our similarities, as well as differences.  

Additionally, over the last 2 years, I have personally been faced with career and family challenges, I never anticipated occurring.  By navigating my way through these experiences, I believe I am learning and gaining valuable experience that may at some point be helpful in assisting others find their ways through difficult times. 

 

Gregorio Hernandez

Gregorio Hernandez
Role: Peer Support Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Years of Service: 14.5

Hobbies/things I enjoy: Spending time with family and friends. Visiting new places.

Why I wanted to be a PST member: We have all had times in our lives that have been difficult to handle. I wanted to make sure that everyone knows that there is always someone available that they can call if needed.

Xochitl Hernandez

Xochitl Hernandez
Role: Peer Support Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Matt Holmes

Matt Holmes
Role: Peer Support Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Years of Service: 14

Hobbies/things I enjoy:  Travel, reading, hiking, and being an involved father and husband. 

Why I wanted to be a PST member:  We all have stressful lives and careers.  We are fortunate that AFD can provide the resources to help personnel through difficult times.  I wanted to be a part of that process. 

Kyle Kremer

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Role: Peer Support Team Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Joined AFD: 2017

Hobbies/things I enjoy:

Traveling

Backpacking

Hiking

Mountaineering

Why I wanted to be a PST member:  

I want to be a resource for my fellow firefighters who are going through a hard time or just having an issue with a particular part of life.  As firefighters, we help people every day and sometimes neglect ourselves.  Having a peer support team where firefighters can reach out to in a time of need is crucial in maintaining a happy and healthy department. 

Life experiences: 

I am originally from Boise, Idaho.  I was in the US Air Force for 4 ½ Years.  I was also in the Army National Guard for an additional 8 Years as well.  I graduated from Boise State University in 2015 with a Bachelors in Political Science. 

 

Sandra Lopez

Sandra Lopez
Role: Peer Support Team Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Joined AFD:  2016

Hobbies/things I enjoy:  

Time with my kids (29, 26 & 14)

Traveling to New Places

Nature

Lake Life

Friend Gatherings

Music Venues

Why I wanted to be a PST member:

When I was made aware of this amazing team, I wanted to be part of it.  While going through this beautiful thing call life, dealing with the everyday responsibilities as individuals, parents, husbands, wives, etc. sometimes you are up, sometimes you are down.  But it’s the difficult times where we need a little more support and guidance to improve the ability to navigate the difficult times, to live a happier life and to grow as a person.  

Life experiences:

I’ve had experiences in my life that have made me stronger and have help me understand others dealing with similar difficulties.  I lost my son Ivan Jared to Leukemia when he was just 5 years old.  I’ve endure psychological and physical abuse in what was supposed to be a loving relationship. I have had those feelings of hopelessness and I have experienced the hand of God in my life.

Danny Oliver

Danny Oliver
Role: Peer Support Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Years in Service: 16

Hobbies/Things I Enjoy:  Fishing, hiking, all sports, dirt bikes, mountain biking, family time

Why I wanted to be a PST member:  I wanted to be member of the Peer Support Team because I recognized that there are a lot of people out there that are hurting and want someone to be there.  I want to be there for people in my world.  

Andrew Ramon

Andrew Ramon
Role: Peer Support Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

My name is Andy Ramon

Been with AFD for 12 years(class 109)

My hobbies are fishing, hiking, anything Dallas Cowboys, I’m a mentor for a 7th grader, super hero movies, church ministries

Like becoming a firefighter, I felt becoming a member of PST was a calling. When I was a medic in the Army Reserves I worked at Brooke Army medical center and because I was a fellow soldier many of my patients opened up to me while I was treating them. I felt a great sense of honor and responsibility with these soldiers sharing their internal feelings with me. Fellow firefighters throughout my career have shared some personal struggles with me as well. I’ve been told I have a good ear.

I feel I am very blessed and thankful to be part of the AFD.  My Dad passed away, suddenly, a month after I got off probation and that was the single most difficult episode in my life. Thankfully I was surrounded by great friends in the AFD and my big, loud, loving family. His passing taught me a lot about myself. Even in death he still continued to teach and strengthen me. I’ve been married for 8 years and we have a happy, beautiful 5 year old daughter. She’s my sunshine.

Jamie Silas

Jamie Silas
Role: Peer Support Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Joined AFD: 2005

Hobbies/things I enjoy: Stuff

Carrie Stewart

Carrie Stewart
Role: Peer Support Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Jason Venzant

Jason Venzant Jr
Role: Peer Support Member
Phone: (888) 423-3435

Years of Service: 22 total fire service, 7 with AFD. I joined the Air Force in 1996 as a firefighter and was active duty from 1996-2000. I was then in the Reserves and was recalled to active duty and deployed post 9/11. Prior to joining AFD, I was a federal firefighter.     

Hobbies/things I enjoy: Working out, traveling, going on cruises, dancing, rollerskating, cooking, and volunteering.

Why I wanted to be a PST member: I wanted to be there for others who are going through events and times that I’ve experienced firsthand such as divorce, depression, and suicidal thoughts. I was able to fight back through all of these things and now feel that it is very vital to be there for one another. All too often the ones who are supposed to be able to help everyone else don’t know how to help our own selves.

Life experiences that I want to share: In November 2016, I was injured on the job (a ruptured quad tendon), had surgery, went through divorce, was told to move out, and was on the losing end of a hard divorce. On Christmas morning, I found myself at the bottom of a deep hole that I didn’t know how to get out of. I felt alone with no family, useless as I was injured, and worthless because of what I thought I had lost. I thought life was over for me with unsuccessful attempts to reach out. By the grace of God, He didn’t let me go through with my plan. Instead He started surrounding me with great people who helped me to get back up and running again. I am awesomely happy and thankful for this journey back to where I am today through prayer and strength from God.