Meet Our Speakers

Robert Avsec - Master of Ceremonies

Robert Avsec is a retired fire department battalion chief who completed a successful and rewarding 1st career with the Chesterfield (Va.) Fire & EMS Department after 26-years.

During that time, he also enjoyed a long and distinguished career as an instructor in the emergency services field, serving as an adjunct Fire Instructor for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs and as an adjunct instructor for his own department’s Training and Safety Division. Chief Avsec also served as a contract instructor for the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland from 1992 to 2007.

In 2012 he “found” his true 2nd career as a freelance writer who contributes on-line content monthly to and Chief Avsec hosts his own blog, Talking “Shop” 4 Fire and EMS, where he and his guest bloggers write weekly about leadership and management issues in the fire service and EMS.

In 2022, He had his first book published, Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months–From Scratch.

Chief Avsec earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Fire and Safety Engineering Technology from the University of Cincinnati, master’s degree in Executive Fire Service Leadership through Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, and he’s a 2001 graduate of the NFA’s Executive Fire Officer Program.

He lives in Charleston, West Virginia and in his spare time he enjoys snow skiing and golf. (If it’s white, he skis it, if it’s green he hits golf balls off it).

Dr. Carla Sutton Moore

Developing Psychological Wellness Programs in the Fire Service 

Dr. Carla Sutton Mooreis a licensed psychologist and has worked in the field of mental health for over 22 years, and specifically with the fire service and other first responders for over 17 years. She has worked in several settings, including a juvenile court mental health clinic, residential treatment facility, managed care, private practice, and city government.

Currently, Dr. Moore is the Founder and Clinical Director of Moore to Life Counseling and Consulting, LLC. She also enjoys her current work as a Chief Psychologist for the City of Atlanta Public Safety Behavioral Health Wellness Unit, providing oversight in the implementation of annual wellness checks, psychoeducation and resilience training, and other prevention and wellness programming for Atlanta Fire Rescue, Police, and Corrections. She also consults with other Atlanta metropolitan agencies regarding prevention, resilience, and mental health wellness for firefighters and law enforcement officers.

Dr. Moore is a board member of the Georgia Psychological Foundation, and Co-Chair of the First Responder Mental Health Initiative Committee. She is also a member of the Southeastern Psychological Association’s Committee for Equality of Professional Opportunity and the American Psychological Association’s Division 18–Psychologists in Public Service.

She has presented research findings at conferences such as Fire-Rescue International and the Society for Criminal and Police Psychology conference. Dr. Moore has conducted research on help-seeking behaviors and clinical outcomes of firefighters that received treatment voluntarily in an internal EAP setting. Research findings have informed prevention program development, and wellness and resiliency training that is offered to City of Atlanta Fire and Rescue, as well as other metro Atlanta fire departments.

Dr. Moore is married and has two children. She enjoys traveling, exercising, singing, dancing, and volunteering with her Atlanta Falcons Cheerleader Alumni group, and trying new foods. Her strong faith, and her connection with family and community keeps her grounded and resilient.

Chief Roderick M. Smith

Developing Psychological Wellness Programs in the Fire Service 

Roderick “Rod” M. Smith has twenty-eight years of fire service experience with the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department. He has extensive knowledge and training in numerous aspects of the fire service, including structural and aircraft rescue and firefighting, technical rescue, hazardous materials, administration and personnel management, public education and relations, research and development, strategic planning, Emergency Medical Service, executive development and Homeland Security.

Chief Smith has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Finance from Morehouse College and a master’s degree in Public Administration (MPA) from Columbus State University. He is a founding member of the Fire Services Information Technology Consortium. Also, he holds numerous certifications to include Paramedic, Post Certified Instructor, NIMS Type-3 Communications Leader, ARC ESRI GIS I & II. Chief Smith recently completed the National Fire Academy’s Executive Officers Program.

Brandy Carlson-Moore, MSW

Developing a Behavioral Health Access Program for firefighters and their families

Brandy is the Deputy Director of the 2nd Alarm Project. She holds a Master of Social Work degree from Florida State University with a specific focus in policy, leadership, and administration. Brandy’s work at 2nd Alarm Project includes training first responders on developing Behavioral Health Access Programs (BHAPs) and leadership in mental wellness for first responders. She was instrumental in the creation of the BHAP Toolkit which serves as the foundational resource for 2nd Alarm Project’s BHAP capacity building and technical assistance efforts with first responder departments. She also provides direct supervision and oversight to first responders, clinicians, and other BHAP subject matter experts on the team. After over 23 years of working to increase individual safety, well-being, and organizational health, she has a deep and diverse skillset in working with leadership teams, first responders, clinicians, and direct social service providers.

Prior to working at the 2nd Alarm Project, Brandy served as President of Strategic Empowerment Consulting working with organizations in various capacities including: grant writing, strategic planning, leadership development, curriculum development, and mitigating burnout in the workplace. Brandy has served on nine statewide advisory committees and conducted over 500 trainings on a wide variety of topics such as Board Governance, Critical Incident Leadership and Support, Crisis and Disaster Management, Mental Health Awareness, and Strategic Planning. Previously, in her work to end domestic violence, she and her team trained hundreds of first responders on handling best practices in handling domestic violence crimes. Her professional roles have included direct service work, middle management, and executive leadership. Brandy is married to her best friend Dan who is a Firefighter Engineer at the Tallahassee Fire Department. She is a mom to two amazing little ones that keep her learning and growing daily.

Dr. Deborah C Beidel

Responding to Mass Casualties: Mental Wellness Deployments to a Hurricane and a Building Collapse

Dr. Deborah C. Beidel is Trustee Chair and Pegasus Professor of Psychology and Medical Education and Director of UCF RESTORES at the University of Central Florida. UCF RESTORES is a clinical research center dedicated to changing how PTSD is understood, diagnosed, and treated.

Dr. Beidel received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in clinical research at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. She holds Diplomates in Clinical Psychology and Behavioral Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science.

Dr. Beidel is a leader in the area of traumatic stress and her use of virtual reality to treat PTSD has led to the development of treatments that are two to three times more effective than standard psychological interventions. She is also the author of over 300 scientific publications including journal articles, book chapters, and books.

Dr. Beidel has received over $31 million dollars in federal research funding throughout her career, developing effective treatments for anxiety and PTSD and then disseminating them into standard clinical practice. She consults regularly with state and federal governmental agencies as well as community organizations on how to deal with the aftermath of mass violence.

Dr. Nicole L. Sawyer

Fire Service Mental Health and Wellness in a Small, Rural State: Filling Gaps and Overcoming Barriers

Dr. Nicole L Sawyer is a licensed clinical psychologist in Exeter, New Hampshire. She has served the public safety population exclusively for over 10 years.

Dr. Sawyer is the Clinical Director for several fire department peer support teams, including the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire Peer Team. She is also a supporting psychologist for the New Hampshire State Police Peer Support Unit and is an instructor for the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and its Crisis Intervention Team training program. She is also the crisis intervention specialist for multiple SWAT and emergency response teams.

In addition to her community leadership roles, she provides psychological consultation, assessment, and evaluation for several local police and Fire/EMS departments across New Hampshire, as well as the New Hampshire State Police and the Department of Corrections. She is a frequent speaker on such topics as trauma mitigation and early crisis detection for public safety professionals.

Susan Brown

Ms. Susan Brown is a Lead Clinician and Trainer at Forge VFR Health. She has been in clinical practice for thirty years. Susan worked in rural EMS as an EMT-I for over ten years, her father retired from the fire service as chief and served in the Army National Guard, and her husband served in the Marine Corps and retired from law enforcement. She has had the privilege and honor of working with the first responder and military population for much of her career.

Susan has been involved in critical incident response for over 25 years. She maintains an individual caseload, provides wellness and mental health training at the state and local level within public safety, she is an embedded clinician at Manchester, New Hampshire Police Department, she serves on the Southern New Hampshire Regional CISM and Peer Support Team and facilitates First Responder retreats at Camp Resilience.

Joseph Elliott

Origin and development of the peer support program in the Cincinnati Fire Department.

Joseph Elliott is the Peer Support Coordinator for the Cincinnati Fire Department and has been a career firefighter/paramedic for 16 years. He also serves on the Cincinnati Fire Fighters Union Local 48 Executive Board and has served on the Tri-State Peer Support Team for the last five years
Firefighter Elliott holds a bachelor’s degree in emergency services administration from Anna Maria College and is currently working on his master’s in organizational leadership. His passion for mental health comes from the stigma surrounding mental health within the first responder community and seeing some of his co-workers struggle with mental health.
When off-duty, Elliott enjoys traveling and seeing the world with his two daughters and wife.

Dr. Erica Birkley

Origin and development of the peer support program in the Cincinnati Fire Department.

Dr. Erica Birkley is a psychologist and owner of Birkley Consulting. Dr. Birkley performs psychological testing, including post conditional offer of employment and fitness-for-duty psychological evaluations, stress inoculation and recovery training, well visits, critical incident response and planning, and consultation for first responder agencies. Dr. Birkley’s mission is to serve, nurture, and heal first responders with trustworthy expert care.

Her vision is to contribute to agency vitality, bolster peer support and mental health initiatives in our region and bring hope to first responders and their families. Dr. Birkley is married to her high school sweetheart and lives with her seven-year-old daughter on the eastside of Cincinnati. Her happy place is in dirt-stained overalls tending to her garden.

Michael Anthony Schlenk

Using the A.M.E.S. (Assemble, Measure, Execute, Systematic Use) organizational health assessment to assess public safety provider behavioral health.

Mr. Michael Schlenk is a first-year doctoral student at the University of Central Florida’s Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program. He has a background in project management and data analytics examining first responder health and wellness.

As part of multiple grant funded projects, Mr. Schlenk has co-led organizational health assessments for multiple fire service agencies across the state of Georgia and assisted in the development of wellness check programming for public safety agencies.

His research interests include understanding the experiences and health concerns–namely substance use–by female public safety personnel to promote more informed and tailored interventions.

Gustė Gramaglia

Understanding what motivates firefighters to work and challenges to that motivation.

Ms. Guste Gramaglia is a psychologist at Firefighters Training School for the Republic of Lithuania and a lecturer at Mykolas Romeris University. She pursued her academic and professional journey with a passion for understanding psychological well-being and helping people cope with the challenges they face.

Ms. Gramaglia completed her bachelor’s degree at Mykolas Romeris University in Lithuania and her master’s degree in clinical and Community Psychology at Turin University in Italy. She was licensed as a Psychodrama Assistant by the Psychodrama Association of Lithuania.

She is currently pursuing a PhD at Mykolas Romeris University with an emphasis on conducting research on how a firefighter’s motivation changes and factors that influence it. Ms. Gramaglia has been working with firefighters for five years and has gained incredible experience in teaching firefighters how to cope with stress, deal with critical situations, and how to give emotional support. She’s done much work in suicide prevention and she conducts individual and group consultations for fire service specialists.

Dr. Abby Morris

The effects of sleep deprivation on firefighters

Dr. Abby Morris received degrees from Cornell University and Georgetown School of Medicine and completed her residency training at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She is double board certified in Psychiatry/neurology and Addiction medicine. She has been a physician for 20 years and has been working as a medical director for the last 15 years.

Dr. Morris has worked in diverse medical settings including as the Medical Director for a CMHC, as the Medical Director for an Assertive Community Treatment program and as the Medical director of a 24-bed psychiatric unit in a Johns Hopkins Hospital in suburban Maryland. She is currently the Medical Director of the IAFF Center of Excellence, a stand-alone mental health treatment facility for first responders with PTSD, addiction, or other behavioral health challenges.

Dr. Morris has been awarded many local and regional honors for her academics and work in her field and is considered an international expert in first responder mental health and trauma. She has been on multiple news programs, panels, and conference forums and has been invited to teach in a variety of settings around the country and internationally.

She also serves as the medical consultant for the SWAT/CIT team in Montgomery County, Maryland and was named the Volunteer of the Year by that county’s police department in 2017. However, Dr. Morris is most proud to be the mother of two incredible young men.

Battalion Chief (Ret.) James W Peal

Chief Peal is a graduate of Georgia State University who began his career in the fire service as a volunteer firefighter before serving for 30 years with the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department. During his career, Chief Peal served as a fire medic, Fire Communication Watch commander, company officer, section chief for the Office of Professional Standards and Battalion Chief, in both field operations and airport operations.

Chief Peal was actively involved in training firefighters on various topics, most of which involved firefighter safety. Chief Peal has always believed that a firefighter’s physical and mental fitness is one of the cornerstones of firefighter safety and organizational stability.

Fire Marshal Vincent Anderson

Building collaboration between the fire service and allied professionals is a career passion for Vincent Anderson. He currently serves as the Fire Marshal with the City of Redlands (Calif.) Fire Department, a historic, yet expanding community that utilizes extensive community risk reduction initiatives for proactive protection from the risks of wildfires, earthquakes, and medical emergencies. Vince obtained his Master’s in Public Administration from Liberty University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in History with a minor in Public Affairs from UCLA. He is also a Registered Primary Instructor with California State Fire Marshal/State Fire Training, and an Adjunct Professor with Moreno Valley College. In all of these opportunities he endeavors to advocate for the fire prevention and community risk reduction specialists across the fire service community.