Fire Fighting in Canada

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Comment: March 2015

We didn’t make a conscious decision to write more about first-responder mental health, it just happened.

People came to us – bloggers Bruce Lacillade and Rob Martin who write Stand Down and Fit for Duty on our website and complement Jennifer Grigg’s powerful stories in her Dispatches blog and column, and Keith Stecko, the fire chief in Smithers, B.C., whose piece on page 46 looks at critical incidents through his decades of fire, paramedic and armed forces experience.

All three new writers explore aspects of first-responder mental health from different perspectives, and while there may be some repetition in their messages – you are not alone, you are not weak, start talking, end the stigma – we want to make sure we reach everyone from firefighter candidates to chiefs, so we’re glad to provide insight from people in different stages of their fire-service careers.

All have impressive backgrounds. Lacillade is a former firefighter and fire inspector; he’s ex U.S. military and a chaplain. Martin is a fire captain and a yoga instructor with extensive training in critical-incident stress debriefing. Chief Stecko is an ALS paramedic with armed forces experience.

Grigg, of course – a longtime contributor – is a volunteer firefighter who has recounted her experiences with depression and post-traumatic stress and whose writing has elicited thanks and comments from firefighters from across the country.

Some of our other contributors have written passionately about the need for fire-service leaders to implement programs to deal with critical incidents and PTSD. (You can read their columns on our website under hot topics/health and safety.)

Why focus on mental health now? Because people are talking, and when people talk, change happens. It’s hard to know whether the statistics Global News and the Tema Conter Memorial Foundation have reported about first-responder suicides – four in January and 34 since the end of April – are an anomaly or if we’re more aware and counting.

I first heard an emergency responder talk about PTSD in 2011 at the Tema Conter conference. Jim Bremner, a retired Toronto police officer, shot and killed a man during a hostage-taking in 1999.

Bremner’s book, Crack in the Armour details his descent into PTSD and the subsequent drinking and consideration of suicide. I was baffled by the fact that no counselling had been offered to Bremner.

We’ve come a long way. By now you know that Bell’s fourth Let’s Talk day on Jan. 28 raised more than $6 million for mental-health awareness and programs; a chunk of that will go to first responders.

Everyone’s talking. Everyone’s listening. No one’s judging. All you have to do is ask.

March 2, 2015  By Laura King

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