Twenty-three calls in February to the Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory were for Community Assistance, Resources & Emergency Services (CARES).

“CARES is picking up, it’s getting busier,” Fire Chief Garrett Holderman reported to the WWFT Board during their meeting Tuesday.

The CARES program, which started a couple years ago from Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer’s suggestion after seeing a similar program in Carmel, is the Fire Territory’s initiative to assist those in need of mental health help or other kinds of assistance, such as domestic violence de- escalation, wellness checks, home safety visits, etc. A CARES response usually stems from a 911 call. Along with the WWFT, partnering agencies include the Bowen Center, Warsaw Police Department, Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office and Lutheran EMS.

EMS Chief Chris Fancil and retiring fire chief Mike Wilson have been working on getting CARES up and running.

Fancil told the Board Tuesday, “We met with the mayor a couple weeks ago and we had a good discussion with the new fire chief and talked about the CARES program and what that means and what we’re trying to do with it. It became pretty obvious that there was going to be a little bit of a start-up cost in addition to the salary of the employee. We hope to put into that position soon. I know Chief (Garrett) Holderman has been working with (Human Resources) and the mayor to get that position set out, so we’re hoping to get that done pretty quickly.”

He said the overhead costs they came up with were – based on conversations with WPD, the prosecutor’s office and Bowen Center – included body cameras for the CARES people, cameras possibly in vehicles and maybe vests to protect the CARES workers. While he said they want to keep their people safe, they also don’t want to look like police officers. Basic medical equipment also would be part of the costs.

“We had an incident just today actually where we were great with a gentleman. He was having some issues with some anxiety. We were having great conversation. As soon as we walked outside, and PD was there, his anxiety jumped to about 1,000 points,” Fancil said. “So we want to be able to be safe, but we also want to just have that concealed.”

Total cost of the equipment was estimated at $15,000 to $20,000. Fancil said they met with the K21 Health Foundation on Monday, who was interested in helping the CARES program with the equipment costs. He asked the Board members for their permission to apply for a grant through K21 to cover the start-up costs.

Fancil said Thallemer had the foresight to use American Rescue Plan Act to hopefully pay for the salary of the individual to coordinate CARES, but the grant would help with the equipment costs. K21’s next grant application deadline is May 1.

The WWFT Board just needed to approve the grant application.

He said there are state and federal grants they also will be pursuing.

Fancil also reported they also are on the docket for the Mobile Integrated Healthcare subcommittee this Friday in Indianapolis to get their “blessing” to be a MIH provider in the state. “That is step one for us to pursue that grant opportunity in another level,” he said.

As far as the CARES program, Fancil said, “As the mayor said, it is crazy right now. We have been responding all over the area in our territory. We’ve made a couple responses to assist the county with certain situations where they’ve asked for our help. It’s kind of hard to turn down a request, especially say on a child who is in a mental health care crisis. I’m not one that says, ‘No, I’m not going to do that because it’s crossed a line.’ We certainly try to stay within our territory because that’s our No. 1 responsibility, and we’re certainly doing that, but it’s kind of hard to turn it down because we’re human beings and we want to help people so we do respond occasionally outside of that area.”

In talking to Sheriff Kyle Dukes and some of his officers, Fancil said the CARES program maybe will have a parallel version in the county.

“But we are certainly piloting it, and if our results are anything, it has been unbelievably helpful to this community. We’ve got great relationships we’ve already built with Bowen Center, Fellowship Missions, the hospitals,” he said, adding that they are getting people the resources and help that they need. “Our numbers keep going up.”

After the WWFT Board approved the grant application to K21, Thallemer said they’ve deliberately been taking their time with rolling the CARES program out.

Brandon Schmitt, Board member, acknowledged the “fantastic” work that has been put into the program and how much Fancil and Wilson clearly cared about it.

“I was a little skeptical at first, thinking we’re going to take guys off fire trucks, which we don’t have the ability to do being shorthanded, but when we’re able to supply that kind of a need without taking firefighters off the trucks, I just see this blossoming into something that’s great for our community,” Schmitt said.

Fancil also told the Board about a scannable QR Code for Smartphones that’s being developed for the CARES program in partnership with Fellowship Missions. He said hopefully it will eventually be on the back of police officers’ business cards so as they make contact with people who may need a CARES person or other resource, the QR Code can help direct them to the assistance they need. The QR Code directs users to a CARES web page that Fellowship Missions Executive Director Eric Lane developed with 1-800-Media.

For CARES assistance, call 574-453-7901 Monday through Friday 8 am to 4 pm After-hour calls will be returned the next business day. Anyone experiencing an emergency should call 911.