Programs and peers help firefighters cope

Fire Training and Education Centre in Regina. Firefighters across Canada turn to programs and peers for mental health support. Photo by Conchita Galvez

Firefighters across Canada turn to brothers and sisters within the fire station for peer support after tough emergency calls and high stakes.

“The stigma has changed greatly. Peer to peer in the fire service is very big – it is the brotherhood sisterhood that is huge in the fire department,” said Captain Trevor Roberts in Regina.

Bringing an end to the stigma, firefighters are openly speaking out on how they cope — through relying on the support of their team. Sean Godfrey, a 25-year old firefighter from Alberta discussed the importance of relying on the station crew after a traumatic fatal, drunk driving, call.

“Taking care of your mental health is just as important as your physical health,” said Godfrey. “Since we are such a tight knit group, it’s beneficial to just go over a certain incident together.”

Firefighters saw Bell Let’s Talk, a fundraising initiative on social media, on Jan. 28 as an opportunity to come together to raise awareness on the stigma surrounding mental health. Alberta firefighter Hunter Slobynik described the Bell campaign as an opportunity to show support for one another. Sending messages to other firefighters was a gentle reminder of the strong community around the team.

“We have such a great community of brothers and sisters in the fire service,” said Slobynik. “I find the biggest impact that these sort of messages have on firefighters and any first responder is the relation that people are eager and willing to listen when we are dealing with a difficult call.

“Having that Bell Let’s Talk Day helps us to remember that we are not alone when managing with the inherently natural stress that comes with our job”.

Captains and chiefs continue to serve as role models for an end to the stigma around speaking out. Captain Thomas Groot from Alberta said the peer support group is growing.

“There are now between 20-30 members on the Peer Support Team serving firefighters struggling with mental health issues,” said Groot.

A call representative with Sask First Responders Mental Health said they provide 24/7 emergency call service to firefighters and police officers. The services include mobile crisis unit, assistance to family members and friends of first responders plus mental health checks.

According to Sask First Responders Mental Health: “Being on the front line, going out on tough calls, dealing with difficult, life-and-death situations — all of it can take a toll on first responders.”

The first step to dealing with emotional trauma is the self-assessment tool which can indicate whether or not a firefighter is dealing with mental health issues such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression.

Resources are available for first responders who have dealt with traumatic experiences. According to the Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), a trained team member will provide individual and group interventions, counselling and referral for contact with WCB.

For firefighters like Hunter Slobynik, he is pleased to see the progress that has been made.

“A lot of the senior firefighters share stories about how much the culture has changed around the fire station”.

 

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