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Saskatchewan launches peer-support group


June 3, 2016
By Maria Church
Thirty volunteer first responders have been trained to provide critical-incident stress management to their colleagues in Saskatchewan.

June 3, 2016 - A team of firefighters, EMS and mental-health professionals in Saskatchewan is offering relief to first responders who have experienced traumatic events in the workplace.

Thirty volunteers so far have been trained in critical-incident stress management (CISM) in conjunction with the Saskatchewan Volunteer Firefighters Association (SVFFA) spring and fall training events, known as fire schools, and the Saskatchewan Association of Fire Chiefs.

Paynton Fire Chief Ellery Russell, who is a CISM team committee member and director with the SVFFA, said the provincial government recently indicated it will provide funding to support the CISM team, although the amount has yet to be determined.

"Critical incident stress management has been going on for ages," Russell said, "but it hasn't been provided to volunteers free of charge. The volunteer fire departments have had to pay for someone to come out and do the intervention."

Three members of the CISM team deployed following the school shooting in La Loche in January, to offer support to the first responders.

Training will continue for CISM team members over the next three years, and organizers hope to eventually have 80 or so fully trained volunteers dispersed across the province to provide peer support as needed, and reduce travel costs for the team.

Russell said she is interested is seeing the Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) program, being rolled out across the country by various municipal and first-responder groups, offered in Saskatchewan to help volunteers build resilience to traumatic events.

"We would like to have more prevention because if they have the tools to deal with what they are seeing at the time, they may not need as much intervention, and it might stop PTSD from being an issue in the first place," she said.