By Rob Evans
Dec. 24, 2014, Redwood Meadows, Alta. - Fire fighting, like most of life, is full of milestones. Along the way are the challenges you will encounter and how you deal with these experiences helps too mould you as the firefighter that you become over time. This starts the day you fill out the application form and continues until the day you get the axe – I mean the retirement-presentation axe, or if you have made really poor decisions I guess it could be THE axe.
By Rob Evans
Looking back over the year, starting with Christmas Day 2013, I responded to one of the hardest calls I have ever been to. Shortly after noon we were paged out for a head-on collision. While responding we began to receive word that the collision involved a sedan and a tractor-trailer. One of our firefighters came across the scene soon after the actual crash and determined that the sole occupant of the sedan had been killed in the carnage.
We had arrived in our rescue shortly after an engine from Rocky View Fire Services (RVFS). The crew from the engine had already covered the woman with a tarp and there was nothing graphic to see. I have always been an advocate of making sure our members are protected and do not see any more than they have to when they arrive at a fatality incident. To this end, I made sure that our rescue crew members did not go into the ditch where the car ended up if they had no business being there. Crews from RVFS and Redwood Meadows Emergency Services (RMES) were on scene for hours, providing scene safety and lighting for the RCMP as the day progressed, ending finally with the extrication of the sedan’s driver.
I was relieved on scene as I had to go into work that night at Calgary’s 911 centre. When I arrived at work I was informed that the woman killed, retired corporal Leona MacEchern, had left a note for her husband and the scene I had just left was yet another Canadian veteran’s suicide. That is when it started. It bothered me. A lot.
More and more we tell our firefighters not to hold feelings in. Talk to people. If you need help, get help. Until recently, I was not a good mentor when it came to this and I finally realized it at the end of October. This was still a good month and a half after attending Fire-Rescue Canada in Ottawa in September, where much of the conference centered on mental health.
I’m not pretending to have any more stress than any of you, but I have a lot of things I am constantly thinking about. In Calgary’s dispatch centre, I was an acting team lead. My daughter is a constant challenge with her autism that puts stress on the entire family. I have the same stresses within RMES that every fire chief across the country has with their own departments. Well, I finally sat back and took charge of me. Deciding to let go of some of the stress that I had control of, I stepped down from my role as acting team lead at Calgary dispatch. From there, I decided it was time I talked to a professional about me, my problems. It still took awhile to get the nerve up to make the appointment but I did and I am so glad that I finally took that step.
That appointment was not just like lifting a weight off of my shoulders; it was like lifting the weight of the world off and tossing it away. In just over an hour of talking, the doctor was able to tell me that the way I was dealing with problems was actually on the right course. The good stresses of RMES and responding outweighed the bad stresses of working in an environment (dispatch) where I might not feel as though I was helping as much as I was capable of. Choosing to let go of my acting position was a good way to gain control where I could. Since sitting down and talking with Dr. Patrick Baillie I have noticed a great improvement in my moods and actions in work at dispatch, with my family and within RMES.
Fire fighting, while full of personal milestones, is also about the team. The job always has been and always will be about teamwork, but we all have to recognize when a step back is needed to look at ourselves. This blog had a lot of “I” in it. It was as uncomfortable to write “I” as it was to read it, over and over again. But we all have to realize when it is OK to focus on us. Look after yourselves while looking after each other. You deserve it!