March 22, 2023

Responder Retirement: Navigating Life 2.0 (Part 1) | S3 E12

In this two part mini-documentary, Responder Resilience does a deep dive into the topic of first responder retirement. We are joined by a panel of twenty one retired or active first responders and resilience experts, representing law enforcement, the fire service, EMS, dispatch, animal control, and mental health clinicians.

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In this two part mini-documentary, Responder Resilience does a deep dive into the topic of first responder retirement. We are joined by a panel of twenty one retired or active first responders and resilience experts, representing law enforcement, the fire service, EMS, dispatch, animal control, and mental health clinicians. 

Most people view retirement as something to look forward to with joy and anticipation. At the same time, when it comes to life stressors, retirement is among the top 10.  It’s the nature of most law enforcement officers, EMS personnel, dispatchers and firefighters to put others' needs first. They sacrifice time with family to serve the community -  working long hours, overtime, nights, holidays and weekends.  

When it comes to preparing for their own retirement, unfortunately, many first responders put off important decisions or neglect to ask critical questions.  First responders certainly deserve a fulfilling and well-funded retirement, but preparation is crucial.  This episode will explore some essential criteria to ensure a rewarding career all the way from hire to retire.  

Our guests include Ernest Stevens, Jonni Redick, John Kelly, Patrick Fitzgibbons, Mike Gagliano, Dr. Olivia Johnson, Scott Medlin, Adam A. Meyers, David H. Ferris Jr., Ray Connors, Angela Matthews, Edmund Russell, Peter Marengo, Matt Domyancic, Jeff Ward, Steve Zagami, Dan Welch, Mike Grasso, Gordon MacCalla, Kasey Brainerd and Denise Beard.

Jeff WardProfile Photo

Jeff Ward

Police Sergeant | FTO/PTO Program Coordinator | Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Coordinator

Sergeant Ward is currently in his 21st year of law enforcement. Some of Jeff’s assignments have included FTO/PTO Program Coordinator / Instructor, Accident Investigation Team (AIT) Supervisor, Human Relations Instructor, Peer Support/Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Coordinator, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Coordinator, Patrol Supervisor, Emergency Response Team operator and Honor Guard member. Most recently, Sergeant Ward transitioned into the support services division where he is the Court Liaison and Evidence Manager for the department. Jeff designed and implemented Southington’s Peer Support/CISM Team known as STARS in 2017. The Southington Police peer team has assisted over twenty police and fire agencies in setting up their peer support programs, providing CISM work and offering peer support and resources. Jeff is very passionate about helping other first responders cope with the continued and cumulative stressors they face day to day, on and off the job. This type of work has motivated him to return to school and pursue a master’s degree in social work to continue supporting first responders and veterans following his retirement.

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Angela Matthews

Retired Police Officer | CIT Liaison officer | Mental Health Clinician

Angela Matthews has 17 years of law enforcement experience and is an MSW graduate from Michigan State University. After retiring as a Sergeant she took another position in law enforcement and serves as their CIT Liaison officer. She is a mental health professional in the state of Michigan with her own private practice where she specializes working with first responders, medical professionals, military/veterans, and their families. She consults for various organizations, and is an adjunct instructor at a police academy.

She has extensive training in crisis intervention, is certified through the International Association of Hostage Negotiators, and is an ACE Champion through the Michigan ACE Initiative. Additionally, she is on the CSWE Military and First Responder Track and was the 2020 NASW MSU MSW Student of the Year, she is CISM/CISD trained as peer support and volunteers as a resilience coach for a veteran/first responder organization.

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Peter Marengo

Financial Advisor, Charter Oak Financial

Bringing clarity, guidance and solutions to personal finances and estate planning

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Gordon MacCalla

Nationally Registered Paramedic

I’ve been in EMS since 1992, starting as an EMT. In 1995, I became an EMT-I and 1999 a Paramedic. I’ve climbed the ladder to become a full time supervisor for 2 companies and Medic attached to a regional ESU Team.

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Mike Grasso

Retired Firefighter

Volunteer FF at 15. Hired by Westport Fire at 21. Promoted to Lieutenant at 29. Injured at the end of 2019. Cervical fusion in spring of 2020, recovered and returned to work for about a year before submitting for retirement in 2021. Granted disability pension in June of 2022 after long battle with Town.

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David H. Ferris Jr.

Retired Police Lieutenant | Owner Metroguard Security

Dave has been in the security and law enforcement fields his entire adult life. Prior to owning Metroguard Security, he was an Account Manager and Branch Manager for a global security company. As such, he was responsible for the overall management of 600 employees, generating 15M a year in revenue. As a State of CT armed security instructor, Dave teaches basic and advanced courses to enhance skills and understanding of law in use of force.

Dave retired from a local police department, having advanced to the rank of lieutenant. His assignments included Shift Commander, Investigative Division, Training Division, Rangemaster, Youth Officer, and Public Information Officer. He was a CT police academy certified instructor and taught several use of force disciplines and Critical Incident Management courses. As a former EMT, he was responsible for the department’s Medical Unit. Dave was also assigned to the Special Response Team as the Team Leader. He consulted to local schools and businesses in crisis planning and physical security.

Prior to becoming a police officer, Dave was employed by ADT Alarm Systems, the Connecticut Department of Corrections, J.C. Penney Company, and was a Security Manager for the D.M. Read’s Company. He served active & reserve duty with the United States Army.

Dave has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, a Bachelor’s Degree in Law and Society and an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice Administration. He was an adjunct instructor at the University of New Haven teaching criminal justice courses.

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Kasey Brainerd

Retired 911 Dispatcher | EMT | Volunteer Firefighter

Emergency Dispatcher for over 25 years as well as 15 years in commercial EMS and 20 years volunteer firefighting .

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Dr. Olivia Johnson

Founder Blue Wall Insitute | Former LEO | USAF Veteran

Dr. Olivia Johnson holds a master’s in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Missouri, St. Louis and a doctorate in Organizational Leadership Management from the University of Phoenix, School of Advanced Studies. Dr. Johnson is the founder of the Blue Wall Institute where she provides needs assessments, consultation, and training on wellness issues, suicide awareness and prevention, etc. Dr. Johnson is a veteran of the United States Air Force and a former police officer.

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Denise Beard

Certified Peer Support Facilitator

Denise began her career in EMS in 1992. She volunteered with New Canaan EMS from 1992-2008. In 2004, Denise began working as a Medical/ Surgical Assistant for a private Otolaryngology practice in Greenwich, Ct. She was there until 2012, when she began working at Danbury Hospital as a Medical Assistant in the Oncology department. In 2017, Denise, along with her then partner and now husband Peter, made the decision to retire and move to Canada where Peter was from, in order to spend time with his aging father. It was during her time in Canada that Denise began working with Provincial and National organizations for Peer Support.

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John Kelly

Retired Deputy Sherriff | Coach | Speaker | Author | Podcast Host

As a law enforcement veteran of thirty-years I have been involved in hundreds of critical incidents and a wide variety of specialized assignments. This diversification has given me a unique perspective in understanding the needs and obstacles facing our first responders.The greatest threat to my survival wasn’t the multiple attempts on my life from suspects but came from within. An alcoholic, addict, and adulterer, I struggled to overcome the darkness of PTS and suicidal ideation. Overcoming these obstacles made it absolutely necessary for me to show our brothers and sisters how you can fall, sometimes repeatedly, and keep getting back up. I developed a wellness / leadership program called “Sometimes Heroes Need Help” that addresses the personal, professional, financial, physical and mental health of the first responder. The program provides a roadmap that allows the individual to survive ”Self-Inflicted Wounds”.

The number one killer of the law enforcement professional is suicide. We don’t need additional training to make us better at police work, we need additional training in life work. Shifting the focus from procedural to functional care is an absolute necessity. Relationship wellness, self-care, and making our physical and mental health a priority is an absolute must if we truly care about our front line peoples wellness and performance. I developed a wellness / leadership program called “Sometimes Heroes Need Help” that addresses the life stressors that are keeping our people from operating at their highest level. By working on our personal, professional, physical and mental health we become better officers and human beings. I authored the book “Surviving Self-Inflicted Wounds, A Deputy’s life of Redemption” as a compliment to the program. I have been presenting the program to conferences and agencies of all sizes for the past 22 months.

Jonni RedickProfile Photo

Jonni Redick

Retired Assistant Chief | Author | Speaker | Coach | NOBLE National Chair

Jonni Redick is a retired Assistant Chief with the California Highway Patrol (CHP), a 29-year veteran from one of the largest police agencies in the country with over 12,000 employees. Overseeing large-scale civil disturbance and officer-involved incidents; natural disaster response coordination and oversight; and managed hundreds of personnel within daily operations.

She is a graduate of the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Command College, Class 56. She holds a Master of Science degree from the University of San Diego (USD) and is also an adjunct professor at USD and for San Joaquin Delta College POST Academy.

Redick is a National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) member and is the current NOBLE National Chair for the Safety and Wellness Committee.

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Scott Medlin

Marine Corps and Law Enforcement Veteran | Author | Speaker | Host of The 10 Code Mindset podcast

40% of first responders suffer from mental health issues. It's no wonder that one of the greatest complaints is lack of fulfillment on and off the job. It's a daily emergency, but is anyone listening? Scott Medlin is, and he is guiding, inspiring, mentoring, and equipping these professionals with powerful tools that enable them to immediately make self-care and life fulfillment a priority - even when your constantly being called to serve. Scott's 20 years of personal experience in the Marine Corps and Law Enforcement makes him relatable and empathetic to balancing your call to duty and the call to taking care of self.

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Adam A. Meyers

Former Police Officer | Founder, Stop the Threat – Stop the Stigma | Mental Health Advocate

In April 2016, Police Officer Adam A. Meyers was involved in a critical incident when he used deadly force against someone who armed themselves with a hatchet inside a busy Department store.

In the aftermath of this incident, Meyers was plagued with trauma and guilt, descending into a spiral of depression and using alcohol, while isolating and withdrawing. This led Adam to create Stop the Threat – Stop the Stigma, a mission devoted to removing the stigmas around speaking openly about mental health within law enforcement.

Adam's goal for establishing Stop The Threat - Stop The Stigma and speaking about his critical incident is to promote Law Enforcement Wellness and inspire other Law Enforcement Professionals, and those who work in the law enforcement profession, to speak about their own mental health.

Adam A. Meyers was a Police Officer and Detective in Wisconsin for 21 years. Adam began his Law Enforcement career in 2001 and was a five year active duty United States Army Military Policeman prior to 2001.

Prior to and during Adam's Law Enforcement career he was employed for about 10 years at Hospitals with Behavioral Health Units and Behavioral Health Services in Southeastern and Northwestern Wisconsin.

Adam is a Mental Health Advocate and takes every opportunity to speak about his personal and professional challenges with mental health after his 2016 on-duty deadly shooting. Adam is currently employed as an Emergency Mental Health Crisis Worker in Wisconsin.

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Edmund Russell

Executive Director | Los Angeles Police Department (Ret)

Edmund Russell is the Executive Director of the California Police Athletic Federation (CPAF) bringing 15 years of experience as a Board Member and three years as the Executive Director. Edmund recently retired from the Los Angeles Police Department after providing 31 years of service to the City of Los Angeles.

Edmund was an accomplished tennis player in both the US and World games since 1988, earning many medals. When approached by a fellow board member to help with the Games, Edmund jumped at the opportunity. Over the past 10 years, he has been instrumental in developing new updates for sporting events within the organization. As the Executive Director, Edmund’s goal is to take CPAF to the next level. He hopes to get the word out about the Games through different marketing campaigns that will make CPAF more noticeable to its eligible participants, which was updated in 2021.

In his free time, Edmund likes to travel, bike, and spend time with his family that was not always available to him when he worked as an officer.

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Patrick Fitzgibbons

Retired Police Commander | Podcast Host | National Outreach Liaison FHE Health – Shatterproof Program

Patrick Fitzgibbons is a retired Police Commander from Colorado with over two decades of experience. He went through dark periods, and is now giving back to the First Responder Communities as National Outreach Liaison, FHE Health – Shatterproof Program for First Responders.

Patrick is also a military veteran serving with the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, NC. Patrick holds advanced degrees in Organizational Development and Leadership, and a part-time college professor who enjoys mentoring and coaching the next generation of criminal justice professionals.

Patrick is the host and creator of the Criminal Justice Evolution podcast.

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Ernie Stevens

Crisis LEO | Author | Speaker | Subject of HBO Documentary

Ernest (Ernie) Stevens is a published author with a #1 selling book on Amazon titled: Mental Health and De-escalation: A Guide for Law Enforcement Professionals. Ernie was also a contributing author for, Police Mental Barricade.

Ernie was a police officer for 28 years, serving 26 of those years with the San Antonio Police Department where he was a founding member of the Mental Health Unit. Ernie has been featured on the Emmy Award Winning HBO Documentary, Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops. He has also been featured in NBC’s documentary, A Different Kind of Force. Ernie was interviewed by ABC’s Nightline’s Byron Pitts and featured on officers trained to respond to mental illness calls. Ernie has been featured in over 30 publications and deemed an expert in Crisis Intervention Training.

He is a graduate of Wayland Baptist University and holds a B.S. degree in Criminal Justice. He is married to his wife Lisa who he attended school with since elementary school. He has two incredible children, Reed, and April. Ernie continues to assist communities build and program manage multidisciplinary response teams in his current position as deputy director for the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

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Steve Zagami

Retired Firefighter, Retired USMC Sgt, RN, Yoga Instructor

Stephen Zagami born and raised in the Bronx, N.Y. Graduated from Monsignor Scanlan High School, Sgt. USMC. NYC Firefighter. Graduated from Westchester Community College ASN, Graduate Mercy College BSN. Graduate Yoga College of India, Certified Bikram Yoga Teacher. Certified Hot Pilates Teacher. Currently enrolled in the Master's Degree Nursing Education program, Mercy College. Currently working for the Devereux Foundation, NY Cares working with children and adolescents autism spectrum. Yoga Instructor Bikram Yoga Danbury and Bikram Yoga Yorktown Heights.

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Dan Welch

US Marine Corps | Former LEO | Former Fire Chief

Matt DomyancicProfile Photo

Matt Domyancic

Law Enforcement Officer (Ret.) | Tactical Chaplain

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Anne and Mike Gagliano

Captain, Seattle Fire (Ret.) | Authors | Speakers | Trainers

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Ray Connors

Chief, State of Connecticut Animal Control Unit (Ret.)