Meet the new best friend to Oregon's firefighters: Probie, a bubbly golden retriever who is always ready to give a smile to tired first responders.
On Tuesday, Probie donned his little red vest, bearing the seal of the First Responder Therapy Dogs, and went to visit a base camp for the Bootleg Fire, where crews are battling flames that have consumed over 200,000 acres, with less than 10% containment. Here, Probie did what he does best: make friends and ask for some pets.
The retriever won't be out on the front lines, but he will be offering mental and emotional support to firefighters facing tremendous stress and danger while working in the intense heat.
"One of the things that I really wanted to do was first-responder health and wellness and community outreach," Supervising Deputy State Fire Marshal Amber Cross told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell. After convincing her fire chief to try the program, she and Probie became the first team in Oregon to be part of the California-based non-profit First Responder Therapy Dogs.
Now, Probie has joined his person in volunteering at the Sublimity Fire District near Salem, Oregon, as well as visiting other crews to provide support.
He also has his own Instagram account.
Probie's name stems from a nickname given to new firefighters, who are placed on probation during their first year on the job. He and Cross were both certified back in October of 2020, and while he's coming up on the end of his first year as a therapy dog, Cross told Bill Wadell the retriever is "always a Probie."
He's come a long way from where he began, however. He's a bit of an underdog, if you will.
"He was only 13 ounces when he was born, had to be bottle-fed. He was the runt of the litter," Cross told Wadell. "The breeder actually nicknamed him 'Survivor.'"
Now, Probie's boosting morale and helping crews not only fight fires, but also fight the stigma surrounding the toll the job takes on the crews' mental health.
Supervising Deputy State Fire Marshal Amber Cross tells AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell how Probie came to be a part of the team. (Bill Wadell)
"One of the amazing things that we've really seen is kind of this pendulum shift, especially with first responder mental health and awareness and you know that peer support," Cross said. "We used to not talk about tough or challenging calls. We didn't talk about what was happening, and now we are, so we've got the ability to kind of sit down as a group and kind of debrief over tough and challenging calls and really take care of each other."
With first responders facing physical and mental challenges on a regular basis, it can often lead to stress, depression or PTSD, according to the First Responder Therapy Dogs organization.
"Not only are [firefighters] away from home, but they are working long hours and long shifts, really working to help protect our communities, get the fire out as quickly as possible. They're going day in, day out," Cross said. "It's just been kind of a breath of fresh air to bring Probie in and give a little bit of smiles ... and just let them do kind of a meet-and-greet and have a little bit of normalcy."
Probie brings some smiles to crews at the Sunset Valley Fire near The Dalles, Oregon. (Instagram/@probie_the_firedog)
The National Volunteer Fire Council, the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance also all offer programs or workshops dedicated to supporting mental wellness of firefighters.
Reporting by AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell.
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