Seattle’s new youth mental health program will teach bystanders first responder skills based on fire department’s training model


Shane Ersland


Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell launched the Reach Out Seattle program in June, which aims to provide intervention and prevention services for youths with mental health challenges.


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Reach Out Seattle will develop community learning programs that focus on prevention, early identification, and non-clinical intervention strategies to equip parents, caregivers, and trusted adults with the tools and training they need to support a youth in distress. The program’s model of offering standardized learning programs to community members is based on the Seattle Fire Department’s (SFD) Medic One and Medic Two programs, which encourage residents to be first responders. 

SFD Public Information Officer David Cuerpo told State of Reform that the Medic One program was launched in 1970 when firefighters were trained as paramedics in cooperation with Harborview Medical Center and the University of Washington. It has gained notoriety due to its training elements, and the crucial pre-hospital emergency patient care its paramedics deliver. 

“We were one of the first paramedic programs in the nation,” Cuerpo said. 

The Medic Two program started in 1971 and provides CPR training. 

“The way Medic One and Medic Two came together was that the initial program was designed for cardiac arrest events. But we quickly realized during that first year that it’s important for a person who has a cardiac event to get CPR initiated [on them] as quickly as possible to provide the highest chance for survival. And many times it will be a family member or someone else in the area who can do that. That’s when we started teaching bystanders to do CPR in a cardiac arrest event. The other part of it was to empower them with the skills necessary to save a life.”


SFD then started training workers from local businesses, high school students, and other community members to perform CPR. Studies have shown that prompt CPR from a bystander more than doubles a patient’s chances of becoming a long-term survivor.

SFD has trained one million people since 1971, Cuerpo said. And the program has evolved over the years.

“As CPR methods have evolved science then, training has evolved as well,” Cuerpo said. “More people wanted to learn first aid and other forms of care. The key thing was that our paramedic program was so new, and it started to make a major difference in saving lives. Both adults and teens were all willing to learn. And even to this day, we help in schools in Seattle to teach CPR.”

SFD provides CPR training to all seventh and ninth grade students in Seattle. 

SFD is also preparing to expand its Health One program, which is a mobile integrated health response unit, Cuerpo said. The program was launched in 2019, and is designed to respond to residents immediately and help them navigate whatever needs they have, whether that means medical care, mental healthcare, shelter, or social services. It is possible that the Health One program could complement the Reach Out Seattle program as well. 

“Part of the rollout is that our Health One program is going to be expanding to try to help people with substance use disorder. I can see how the rollout of that program and the future of the (Reach Out Seattle) initiative would tie in. But it’s still in the development phase.”


The Health One program was created to help the most vulnerable people in the community, Cuerpo said. 

“We have three units, and just launched a fourth, to (help) people with drug (addiction),” he said. “They’re able to go out and interact with clients that we have interacted with in the past to provide them with connections to programs that are available in Seattle. If someone is unhoused, we can find resources for them to get into a shelter.”