Local first responders participate in mental health crisis training program

GAYLORD — Business training often gets a bad reputation for being boring and redundant, but that was far from the case Tuesday for Otsego County first responders, who went through a training session with the Western Michigan University (WMU) School of Medicine on how to deal with people in mental crisis was anything but boring.

Twenty-three employees from the Otsego County Sheriff’s Department, Gaylord City Police and Otsego County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) participated in the session, hosted at the EMS building.

The Michigan State Police assisted as proctors and even had a hostage negotiator offer input and guidance.

In total, more than 25 people assisted in making the training as beneficial as possible for participants.

Part of the full-day session included the opportunity to experience 10 different scenarios designed to simulate real-life applications of someone involved in a mental crisis.

“Each one of the stations dealt with training scenarios on people in different crisis,” Cindy Finkbeiner, a training coordinator with EMS, said. “We tried to give them real scenarios, like a suicidal young adult who locked herself in the bathroom — and they learn the best way to handle that.”

Finkbeiner has worked on bringing the unique training experience to Otsego County for more than two months.

“We’ve been working on bringing this event here since January,” she said. “It’s the first time it is being done in Gaylord or Otsego County.”

The training program is spearheaded by Todd Christensen, project coordinator for the Michigan Crisis Intervention System, who spent all of 2016 and 2017 developing the program.

He travels throughout the state with a team of four other core instructors from WMU and their “mobile training center.”

“It uses a flipped class model and utilizes modern-day adult learning principles,” Christensen said. “It’s designed to teach people how to recognize and mitigate those in behavioral health crises.

“Our end goal is to get those people in a mental health crisis the proper care and not have them simply being incarcerated.”

The program is being hailed by many who have gone through it as helpful and something they have never done before, at least not in such a realistic manner.

“A typical 40-hour lecture — death by PowerPoint — usually targets only law enforcement officers,” Christensen explained. “But this is a systemwide approach that’s not just for police, and integrates live situations and virtual reality training as well.”

The virtual reality training component, called MILO Range, is regarded as the nation’s fastest growing manufacturer of best-in-class firearms and use-of-force training systems, according to MILO Range’s website.

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