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Editor’s note: Timing is everything; when Bruce Lacillade approached Fire Fighting in Canada about writing a blog that focuses on mental and spiritual health, people were talking about suicides among first responders, and the most stressful time of year – Christmas – was just around the corner. Bruce is retired from the Burlington Fire Department in Ontario, where he spent 10 years on the floor as a firefighter and the next 15 years as an inspector in fire prevention. He’s also a U.S. Navy veteran and the chaplain for the American Legion in Ontario and the United Council of Veterans (Hamilton and area). Bruce helps first responders, military personnel, veterans, and their families deal with what he calls moral injuries, or internal conflicts.

Dec. 23, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. – As first responders many of your everyday line-of-duty experiences are outside that which is considered normal by most people. You often see people on the worst days of their lives and the accompanying carnage can leave a lasting impression on you.

Further, first responders sometimes tend to blame themselves for the things they have had to witness or perform in the line-of-duty. Memories of some calls or incidents cause many responders to suffer anxiety and anguish. This is normal; humans are prone to suffering.

These memories, however, can create what is referred to as a moral injury – your conscience is troubled, your fundamental understanding of right and wrong may be violated, you can feel as if you have witnessed or fallen prey to a moral transgression.

However, you are not weak and you are not losing it; you have been wounded by your attempts to help others. In essence, you have been injured in the line of duty.

As firefighters, we have been trained in fire science and fire attack; we have been equipped with turnout gear and BAs. But what about our psyches? We all have our ups and downs; we all experience joy, fear, guilt/shame and even sometimes rage – the whole gamut of emotions. Are we properly equipped with personal protective equipment for our mental health?

In subsequent blogs we will look at some of these issues a little more closely.

In the interim, let us remember to breathe – taking a few deep and calming breaths never hurt anyone. We all know how important proper and timely ventilation can be at a fire; well, we need to breathe to release the heat and pressure that sometimes builds up inside of us.

Sharing with your spouse or partner is also very important – you’re in this together. And remember to eat. I don’t know too many first responders who do not work hard, play hard, and eat hard. Yet when we are stressed, we sometimes forget to eat. Eat well-balanced meals, not just junk food – our bodies need nutrition to heal from stressful events.

When I was younger and still on-the-job, I thought beer and wings were one of the major food groups. Apparently, I was wrong; we also need fruit and vegetables. Go figure.

Contact Bruce at

December 23, 2014 
By Bruce Lacillade

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