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AMHERST — New CRESS Director Camille Theriaque has lived a life in public service.

From being a Holyoke firefighter, to becoming a social worker, her lived experiences have only shaped her approach to public safety and service for the better. This is why she feels confident in taking on the challenge of directing the community responders’ model to public safety in the town of Amherst.

Theriaque explained when she was younger, she found out about the civil service exam and was unsure if she should take it. After hearing about the experience of her friend’s husband as a firefighter she received the added push toward pursuing the career and never looked back.

“She said you’ll never know what could have happened [if you don’t pursue] and she was so right,” Theriaque said. “I absolutely loved being a firefighter.”

As a firefighter, Theriaque rose to the rank of lieutenant, serving as the first female lieutenant in the history of the city of Holyoke. She served in the Springfield Fire Department before moving to Holyoke.

According to a release on the news from the town, Theriaque’s unique combination of public safety and social work experience will support the CRESS Department in its work as a public safety agency that includes addressing social service needs as a core component of its work. This skill set was formed over time but started back with her post incident debriefing experiences.

“I realized I was really intrigued by psychologists and the social workers, and the nurses that came to talk to us [after incidents], and what ended up happening after that was I didn’t develop any post-traumatic stress from it. I was able to discuss freely and openly with folks what had happened, and it really helped me, so I decided that I wanted to help others,” Theriaque said.

From there, Theriaque joined the Critical Incident Stress Management team which would go along incidents with first responders and debrief them following responses to calls. Critical Incident Stress Management teams are made up of volunteer peer support and licensed mental health personnel who have been trained to assist responders in dealing with normal reactions to abnormal events.

“We would go around after incidents in police and fire and talk to the responders so that they could debrief and get off their chest what was going on with them,” Theriaque said. “That’s what led me when I went to school to go into social work.”

After stepping away from the profession, Theriaque went back to school to obtain a master’s degree in clinical social work and was qualified as a licensed clinical social worker. She most recently worked as a licensed clinician at the Behavioral Health Network’s Program for Assertive Community Treatment.
She also has earned a bachelor of arts in psychology from Mount Holyoke College and her masters from clinical social work at the Smith College School for Social Work.

“Ms. Theriaque’s experience as a ground-breaking leader in the Holyoke Fire Department combined with her professional training and licensure as a clinical social worker brings a level of expertise that will lead the CRESS Department as it continues to develop as a key option for our public safety response,” said Town Manager Paul Bockelman in a statement.

Theriaque said as she approaches this new position, she understands, as a former firefighter especially, not everyone has had the same positive experiences she’s had. She added that CRESS wants to help be that avenue of public safety in situations where the police are not necessarily needed.

“The police uniform itself can trigger people so if you’re having a mental health difficulty or incident, someone in uniform is not going to make you feel comfortable and a lot of times it makes things worse,” Theriaque said. “Going out and meeting people — that’s the big thing meeting people where they’re at. It comes across differently.”

The biggest goal for Theriaque as she heads into her new role is for the community to understand that CRESS stands with and for them.

“I really want to bring the community together so that people can understand all aspects and all parts of public service from the firefighters to the police, and that when someone is having difficulty, they’re not afraid to call CRESS. And if it’s something that we can’t handle, that they understand and they can look for us to help them navigate to what they do need,” Theriaque said.

Theriaque’s first day was on April 8 and so far, she said she has been excited to jump into the work. She hopes to help CRESS grow and lead by example a new approach to public safety and added she was thankful for Amherst believing in her to take over the job.

“I feel I’m in a great spot. I have wonderful responders. They are so talented and diverse. The skill set that I walked into is amazing. And as far as the community, I have nothing but love. I go home happy every day and I’m excited to come to work,” Theriaque said. “I feel that we’re doing a lot of good work and people are really getting to know that we’re here to help them.”

tlevakis@thereminder.com | + posts