Prince Rupert Fire Rescue trained on the importance of having a resilient and healthy mind, on March 17. Firefighter Real Jones is seen with instructor Dale Maffei firefighter from BC Canadian Mental Health Association. (Photo: PRFR supplied)

Prince Rupert Fire Rescue trained on the importance of having a resilient and healthy mind, on March 17. Firefighter Real Jones is seen with instructor Dale Maffei firefighter from BC Canadian Mental Health Association. (Photo: PRFR supplied)

Symptoms of psychological disorders four times higher in first responders

Prince Rupert Fire Rescue trains how to assist themselves and peers to have resilient minds

Strong and resilient mental health was the subject of new training for the Prince Rupert Fire Rescue department on March 17.

Symptoms of psychological disorders are four times higher in first responders than in the general public, Chad Cooper deputy fire chief told The Northern View. Having strong and resilient mental health is important for first responders.

“One of the reason’s why we’re going down this road, is to prevent suicide deaths in the line of duty,” he said. “In 2015, Canada saw 40 deaths by suicide in first responders — it’s quite a big number.”

Thankfully, he said Prince Rupert has not experienced this occurrence and with ongoing training hopefully will never.

Psychological issues or mental health claims due to the nature of emergency calls and what is witnessed are one of the leading reasons for firefighters taking leave from the job on Worksafe BC claims, Cooper said.

“With Prince Rupert being such a tight-knit community, a lot of the calls we go to we know the people intimately. So, when we see a tragic scene, it hits our firefighters quite hard,” he said.

Sixteen firefighters and six dispatchers took part in the eight-hour training session which included learning to spot triggers and struggles in fellow first responders.

Knowledge gained on the course will help to increase the firefighter’s ability to understand psychological trauma, psychological disorders and dramatic events.

“All the firefighters learn better ways to manage their stress and increase their mental resilience, ” the deputy cheif said.

Equally as important, firefighters and staff will be better equipped to respond and support their colleagues showing signs of psychological distress and illness. ‘Resilient Minds’ is a skills and resilience development training course designed by and for firefighters using the latest literature on resilience, stress and stress-related injuries.

“There is a lot of peer support so nobody is suffering in silence. It’s peer-driven,” Cooper said. “It’s ending the stigma that firefighters have got to basically be able to ‘suck it up’.”

Helping to end the stigma, the Resilient Mind’s course is taught by an industry peer. The instructor for the course held in Prince Rupert was a Vancouver firefighter.

“So that’s the whole process of this is to say, ‘hey, it’s okay to not be okay with this call and let’s look at getting you better’, Cooper said. “Everyone processes everything differently.”

The Prince Rupert Fire Rescue staff do have access to counsellors through employee assistance programs, who are specialized in first responders issues, but this training will assist prior to that stage.

Cooper said in the ‘old school days’ firefighters and emergency responders were programmed to ‘bury it (trauma) down deep’ and issues would ‘pop their ugly head’ at retirement.

“The whole goal of this program is to be able to retire healthier than when you start the job,” he said.

K-J Millar | Journalist 
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