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Jan. 27, 2014, Prince Albert, Sask. – I have been following the troubling news stories about the suicides of Canadian soldiers. The recent suicide of Lt.-Col. Stephane Beauchemin indicates to me that something is missing for our Canadian service men and women. This made me question the impact of suicide and mental illness in the Canadian fire service.

January 27, 2014
By Les Karpluk

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Jan. 27, 2014, Prince Albert, Sask. – I have been following the troubling news stories about the suicides of Canadian soldiers. The recent suicide of Lt.-Col. Stephane Beauchemin indicates to me that something is missing for our Canadian service men and women. This made me question the impact of suicide and mental illness in the Canadian fire service.

Tomorrow, Bell Canada is promoting its Let's Talk campaign to educate Canadians about mental illness. Let’s Talk is a multi-year program dedicated to mental health; Bell has already donated more than $62 million to support mental-health programs across Canada.

In 2009, Ipsos Reid found that the type of work performed was a factor in psychosocial risks and that shift workers were more likely than any other workers to fall into categories for serious or significant concerns. It was also noted that employers can do better when it comes to protecting workers’ psychological health and safety.

I fear a stigma still exists regarding mental illness in the fire service and some of our great people may not seek treatment because of this stigma. We’ve all witnessed comments about coworkers who have received workplace accommodation due to a mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.

I must admit that this has been one of those issues that I put on the side of my desk and have not given the attention it deserves. As with everything in life, certain events take place that bring about a change in priorities and this is no exception. I hope – no, I pray – that our profession will make mental-health issues a priority at the local, provincial and national levels.

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada separates depression from the blues and points out that depression, “is an overwhelming despair so bleak that people who have experienced it say that it is the worst pain they have ever endured.”

The Canadian Mental Health Society says on its website that 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness and that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.

It’s time fire service leaders made psychological health and safety programs a priority for our career and volunteer firefighters.

The Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation provides a link on its webpage to the life safety initiatives launched by the U.S.-based National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF). One of the life safety initiatives is psychological support for firefighters and their families. The NFFF research has raised significant concerns about intervention and treatment approaches that have been, and are still, commonly used with fire service personnel.

Our profession has always taken pride in keeping our citizens safe from harm. Now it’s time to be selfish and start keeping our firefighters safe from psychological harm. If your department has a program to help firefighters deal with mental-health issues or depression, please email me and send me your contact information.

Without treatment, the result can be tragic and have long-lasting consequences. It’s time to be a part of the solution and not the stigma.

If you want to be part of the solution, engage in Bell’s Let’s Talk program tomorrow, and visit Workplace Strategies for Mental Health to learn how your department can help those who need it.

Until next time, lead from within and grow.

Les Karpluk is fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration and Fire Service Leadership programs. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes


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