Captain Best with his service dog Belle

“The things we see, the smells, the sounds, the things we step on….no one needs to experience any of that. No one…”

The horrors first responders experience repeatedly on the job are beyond comprehension yet we expect these heroes to remain unscathed and tethered. Even imaginary superheroes have weaknesses so why do we hold our responders to an unimaginable level of mental performance?  Years and years of resistance, avoidance, and false bravado are responsible for the utter failure to protect our emergency services personnel from the destructive effects of the job. In order to change the system, we need a persistent visionary inside the system who understands the effects of the job, the pitfalls of the journey, and offers unique effective methods needed to combat the cumulative stress responsible for this deterioration. Enter Captain William “Buck” Best with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue. 

Captain Best is a 6’2 tower of strength who carries himself with a quiet confident sense of certainty. It is obvious that he can handle directing any emergency situation at any given time. Yet, the internal stress of the job was subtly brooding underneath the surface for years until some external factors brought him to the breaking point. Experiences on the job as a firefighter, USAR (Urban Search and Rescue), deployment to the Haiti earthquake, and 9/11 deployment to the Pentagon created deep layers of cumulative stress that led to impaired functioning.  Resilience, introspection, and counseling took Captain Best to a higher place with a higher purpose which was to change the reactive model towards mental health to a proactive and preventative model.

Captain Best observed and listened to a broken system. Intuitively programs were created to serve his responder men and women. September 11th motivated him to create the F.I.R.S.T. Program (Fire Rescue and Support Team) which focused on supporting firefighter families. His love and knowledge of the healing power of dogs led him to create a facility dog program which provides trained therapy dogs to fire stations for stress reduction. Having a BA in fine arts along with his personal use of photography for resiliency strengthening, Captain Best initiated the Ashes2Art program which offers free creative services to responders and their families as part of a preventative wellness initiative. The efficacy of this program is documented in an upcoming special Covid-19 issue in the International Journal of Clinical Social Work.

With Captain Best’s focus now set on transitioning into retirement certain images of freedom can be seen in his new photographic series of wild birds in flight. Visionaries arise in many forms however their success can only be measured by the plans they put into action. This Captain has listened, learned, and implemented programs that help other responders to avoid the pain and turmoil of the darkest moments that can creep into this profession. Captain Buck Best; thank you for your journey, thank you for your tireless pursuit of bettering your responder family’s lives, and, above all, thank you for your service. 


  • Kathy Sullivan

    Expressive Arts Consultant, MAAT, R.E.A.C.E.


    Kathy Sullivan, MAAT, REACE, is the managing director of the Ashes2Art program which provides complimentary creative arts services to first responders and their families as part of a preventative wellness initiative. The creative arts are a natural platform to decrease cumulative stress while maintaining a  battle-ready status for the next traumatic shift. It is a monumental honor to engage and interact with such amazing men and women. Blessed.