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Jan. 14, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. - Hey, I made through another holiday season relatively unscathed. We had 14 relatives over for Christmas dinner, and we are all still speaking to each other. This is good!

I hope you also made it through without too many bumps and bruises. Despite the holidays, the tones still go off and you still respond to help others. That’s what you do, you help those in need; be it a medical run, an MVA or a structure fire, the Canadian fire service is well trained and well equipped to do just that - help those in need. In the aftermath of all the holiday activities you should have a sense of satisfaction and pride for the job you do. (Cumulative satisfaction comes to mind. It is a term you might want to Google.)

While not taking anything away from your training and equipment, you still need to accept that you may get hurt on the job. Once you leave the station, anything can happen. In fact studies show that first responders have a one-in-five chance of being hurt or killed on the job in any given year. First responders, along with members of the military, belong to the most dangerous and stressful occupations one can have.

As first responders, you are often exposed to potentially traumatic situations. Frequent exposure to these situations places you at risk of developing critical incident/post-traumatic and/or cumulative stress issues. Recent studies show that upwards of 70 per cent of Canadian workers have expressed a degree of concern with psychological health and safety in the workplace. The world can be a scary place and can challenge your basic life assumptions, assumptions that:

  1. You are safe
  2. Life is fair and equitable
  3. You are a good person
It’s the disruption of basic life assumptions that cause unexpected stress and moral injury. As first responders, post-traumatic stress is a work-related injury we need to be aware of; it affects many systems – physiological, neurological (as well as neuro-chemical), cognitive, behavioural, emotional, social, psychological, and spiritual. Signs to watch for may include hyper-alertness, irritability, emotional outbursts, frustration and anger, loss of attention, loss of concentration, depression, substance abuse, excessive activity and facial tremors.

Without becoming overly fixated on the side effects, as first responders, you need to be cognizant of any issues that could affect your performance on the fire ground. If you are experiencing any of these feelings, don’t hesitate to share them with a loved one or with a buddy you trust. You’re not weak and you’re not losing it, you just may need a little ‘decon’.

It’s a new year. Yes, the calls will keep coming and yes, people will do things that don’t always make sense, but that’s part of life for first responders. Civilians know that when things go south there is always 911. That’s where you come in: you arrive with your big shiny piece of firefighting and life-saving equipment, lights and sirens blazing, and you do what you do so well – fight fires and save lives. Just don’t forget to take care of yourself as well.

Bruce Lacillade 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. Contact Bruce at

January 14, 2015  By Bruce Lacillade

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