After five years of volunteer firefighting and many more as a professional, it’s time to talk a bit.
As a recruit volunteer in Ottawa, recruits and our families were told we would be forever changed by the demands of our job.
Five years later at my graduation as a full-time professional, the chief said the same thing during his speech. Both times I dismissed this as the warnings of old men. This past August, I too finally sought help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the related side effects. By chance, I participated in an emailed survey sent to my fire department from a university studying PTSD. Filling out the survey, I realized that was me. I had often excused my mental state as just the way I was wired, never realizing the cause. I could go on about self-medication and a long history of denial. I could ramble about the sudden overwhelming despair and the nightmares, or I could speak of the horrors witnessed and how professional achievement and satisfaction are generally the result of someone else’s suffering. I suppose all I really want to say to my brothers and sisters in blue:
If you think you are sick, you probably are. We are by nature very strong and caring people - that’s why we chose this work. We pride ourselves on being calm and cool when the metal hits the meat. It’s no doubt hard on us. We know that six minutes from the tones, our lives, and health may be forever altered. We know the stress and responsibilities that go with our profession. We do get sick but can recover and be healthy and happy in our careers. The scars are permanent, but after all, they are only scars; for me, they are no longer open wounds. Seek help early, document your exposures, and use an Employee Assistance Program. Strangely, we all seem to know that help is available but seldom reach out. Pay attention to your mental health as much as your physical health. We can’t take care of each other without talking to each other. My truck mates and crew have been awesome in every way: the brotherhood is real.
Thank you to all of those that have supported me through the last year while I went through the long and tiring process of dealing with PTSD and related issues. Thank you to everyone at the First Response Assist Program at Ontario Shores for giving me the tools to deal with PTSD while living a meaningful life.
Founded in partnership with Wounded Warriors Canada, First Responder Assist provides an interprofessional team dedicated to serving the psychological needs of all Public Safety Personnel/First Responders in the province and offers prevention services, crisis support, and treatment in the form of individual and group therapy.
Access to this program and the support I have received have been invaluable for my recovery.
I have spent most of my professional life caring for others and although that career has been rewarding and is nearing the end, I still have more to offer. I understand the shame and fear of saying it all out loud, the complicated process, and the road to genuine recovery.
If you want to talk, I will listen.
This story originally appeared in the 2021/22 Annual Report.