Opinion
Written by Laura King
I first heard about tracking exposure to traumatic incidents during a Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) course in Lakeshore, Ont., a small community near Windsor.
Written by Laura King
In the first 31 days of this year, 11 people died in house fires in Ontario – four more than in January 2016.  The numbers just happen to be in my in box, courtesy of the Office of the Fire Marshal. As tempting as it is to be critical of that agency’s lack of fire-prevention messaging – there was nary a word after eight people died in two separate fires in December – the lack of effective fire-safety public education is hardly exclusive to Canada’s most populous province.
Written by Laura King
We write a lot, in these pages, about leadership. This month, Bill Boyes returns, offering a new perspective – as the fire chief in Barrie, Ont., – in the Leadership Forum column he shares with acting Toronto Chief Matt Pegg.
Written by Laura King
Walking the floor at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) trade show in May I came upon a Pierce Ascendant 107-foot, single-axle aerial destined for my home town, Oakville, Ont.
Written by Laura King
The news on Jan. 5 that 43 racehorses had died in a barn fire in Puslinch Township, south of Guelph, Ont., was hard on the property owners, the animal owners, and the tight harness-racing community.
Written by Laura King
It is taught in IMS 100 that all emergencies are local. But when rivers overflow, trains derail, or wildfires consume subdivisions, regional, provincial and federal assistance is critical.
Written by Laura King
I was skeptical, as is my nature. But having experienced a five-day train-the-trainer course and taught the eight-hour Road to Mental Readiness leadership program, my cynicism has dissipated.
Written by Laura King
Back in 2008, I was flabbergasted to learn that the Sunrise Propane depot that blew up in Toronto was in a residential area, across the street from ordinary homes.
Written by Laura King
This time last winter, when my younger offspring was looking for a place to live in Toronto for the 2015-2016 school year, he went with a buddy to see a basement apartment. I was less than enthused.
Written by Gord Schreiner
Are you a T-shirt firefighter or a real firefighter? Are you wearing a costume or uniform? Do you take being a firefighter seriously? These are the questions that you, as a chief officer, should be asking your team.
Written by Laura King
I’m at my desk, with my MacBook Pro plugged into a 24-inch flat-screen monitor and a three-terabyte back-up drive, a BlackBerry, iPhone, digital recorder, Nikon DSLR, wireless printer and all means of technology to help me do my job.
Written by Laura King
I’ve mentioned before that when I first became editor and was trying to get my head around standards, acronyms and the politics of fire, I’d ask a simple question just to get people talking: “How many trucks do you have?” I still ask.
Written by Jay Shaw
Knowing what you don’t know could be the key to solving all of your problems. But, what if we don’t actually know what we should? Or worse, we think we know but we are misinformed.
Written by Laura King
My last editorial about first-responder mental health and our commitment to write about it, was in March. Since then, Manitoba included PTSD in its presumptive legislation, fire chiefs in British Columbia passed a resolution to work with the province to do the same, and Ontario chiefs launched a training program to help identify signs and symptoms of occupational stress injuries (see page 7).

As those milestones developed, Nathalie Michaud and Wayne Jasper travelled across Canada, telling firefighter
groups about mental health and the need to talk – and ask – about it.

I first met Nathalie in Penticton, B.C., in June and heard her sometimes-unbelievable story of survival after finding her husband, Fire Chief Richard Stringer, hanging between trucks in the fire hall in Otterburn Park, Que., in January 2010. Stringer’s PTSD was never diagnosed; he never got help.

Nathalie’s PTSD – the result of Stringer’s death and her experiences after 9-11 and Lac-Megantic – was identified, albeit not until 2014; her new-found resilience, along with Jasper’s unconditional friendship and support, is remarkable.

Nathalie’s presentations at the Fire Chiefs Association of BC conference and in Summerside, P.E.I., at the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association conference in July, were the most compelling I have witnessed – as raw as Fredericton firefighter Jeff Mack’s chronicle of PTSD and alcoholism after he and his partner were almost killed in a 2005 fire, and as captivating as that of engine driver David Griffin, whose seven colleagues died in the Sofa Super Store fire in Charleston, N.C., in 2007.

In the first six months of this year, 28 Canadian first responders ended their lives, unable to cope with what they experienced on the job.

In Penticton and in Summerside, fire chiefs spoke to me after the presentations about their PTSD and treatment. One chief is off work and struggling to have his counselling covered – having to document each incident over his 20-plus year career that caused him stress; another is working through a fire-service boundaries issue that has been played out in newspapers, and has had to navigate a similarly challenging system.

Now that we’re talking about mental health and the (perceived) stigma has been all but extinguished, proper identification, treatment, and a streamlined system that helps rather than hinders those who require coverage, are necessary. Achieving those milestones is the next challenge.


Written by Laura King
I first met Toronto Fire Services Capt. Chris Rowland on March 8, 2013, at a symposium about the Elliot Lake mall collapse. The inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre and the emergency response to it had started four days earlier.
Written by Laura King
We never know how readers will respond to the stories and columns we run. We do, however, think long and hard about what goes on our pages and evaluate every story proposal and column idea thoroughly.
Written by Jeremy Parkin
Stop buying fire trucks! There, I said it. There seems to be this idea that buying a fire truck for a community will prevent any and all fire fatalities. There is a tragic flaw in that thinking when it comes to First Nations communities across Canada.
Written by Laura King
In journalism, when a person or group torques a message to suit a particular agenda, we call it spin.
Written by Laura King
Change. Big change. To better serve you, our readers.
Written by Laura King
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.


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