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Feb. 2, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. - Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been in the news recently. According to a Global News story, we have lost four first responders to suicide since Jan. 1 – this makes 34 first responders in Canada who have killed themselves since the end of April. Global News also reports that a Michigan study indicates that 24 per cent of first responders suffer from PTSD; that is a statistic to which you don’t want to belong.

Life is a journey that often leads us to unexpected places, but suicide is not something most of us consider. Life is also an adventure with a penchant for hurling challenges in our paths. The lives of first responders can be filled with challenges and, at times, their attempts to lead meaningful lives appear to be in vain; but trust me, that’s not the case.

First responders are a special breed; they rise to a challenge and are not usually afraid of the unknown. First responders are no strangers to going above and beyond to get the job done – to fight fires and save lives.

Five years ago I gave a talk titled “An attitude of gratitude” to a men’s breakfast group in the Niagara Region in Southern Ontario. I strongly believe that gratitude can turn what one has into enough – not gratitude for the fire or the victim, but gratitude that you can and do help those in their time of need; gratitude that you have survived; that you have a stable, rewarding, and noble, career – the best job in the world.

Dr. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and a Holocaust survivor, believed that life is not primarily a quest for pleasure as Sigmund Freud believed, or a quest for power as Austrian psychotherapist Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Here are three possible sources of meaning that you might find interesting:

  • Work (doing something worthwhile)
  • Love (caring for another)
  • Courage in difficult times
Do any of these ring a bell? They should, for as first responders you fulfill all three of these sources of meaning during an average response.

There are a lot of self-help books that speak of happiness, however, many of these books deal only with superficial issues; they lay out systems on how to get rich quick or how to find ultimate happiness. Advertising constantly tells us how much we are lacking in our lives. We appear to be living in chronic inadequacy. But as humans, we need more than just systems or stuff; these cannot make us happy. Happiness is up to each one of us. I believe that people’s happiness depends on the quality of their thoughts. As a society we are bombarded with sound bites, led to believe that we can find whatever we need just by clicking on Google or Bing or whatever. But life goes deeper and we owe it to ourselves to look beyond the surface.

So the next time your disturbing memories or feelings try to take control, pause for a few moments to check in with yourself. Here are a few steps from The PTSD Workbook, from authors Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula, to help you with this check in.

  1. If possible, stop whatever you are doing
  2. Sit quietly for a short period
  3. Turn your attention inward and ask your body how it feels
  4. Notice if you feel any tension anywhere in your body; e.g. shoulders, stomach, jaw or back
  5. Notice if you are holding your breath
  6. Notice if you are doing anything that suggests tension; e.g. biting your nails, picking at your skin
  7. Now notice any emotions you feel, if you are able to recognize them; e.g. fearful, sad, angry, lonely
  8. Notice if you have racing thoughts or if you are able to stay focused

If you notice any of the above reactions, take some time, and take a few deep, calming breaths.

Stay safe.

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

February 2, 2015 
By Bruce Lacillade

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