This past couple of weeks have been tough for myself and the brotherhood of the fire service in this country, showing just the variety of dangers faced by those willing to dedicate their time and effort to serving the public.
Two things hit me hard last week — the passing of retired Ponoka Fire Department Captain Bob Sorensen after a lengthy battle with cancer and learning of the sudden death of a former deputy chief at a Saskatchewan department that I knew very well.
A couple of other recent incidents also saddened me as a fellow firefighter, the tragic death of a fire chief in B.C. who was finally located a couple of weeks after he fell into a raging river while checking water levels plus the injuries suffered by firefighters at scenes across Canada over the last several months.
Now the passing of each of the firefighters I mentioned may not seem related, but each one of them gave of themselves for the betterment of the people around them.
And in two of the cases, the deaths can be directly attributed to their commitment to the safety and protection of everyone while the other could very well be due to health issues stemming from nearly 40 years on a volunteer fire department.
Sure, people recognize the death of a firefighter, paramedic or police officer at an incident as heroic or exemplary.
Yet, when someone passes away from cancer that may have developed from working in hostile environments or an illness derived while working under conditions that are never ideal, the majority that notice are family, friends and those emergency service first responders.
It isn’t that the general public necessarily overlook or disregard the fact someone has passed away, it is simply the passing of a first responder outside of what would be considered their line of work is viewed in a different light.
However, that shouldn’t be the case since the death is often as a result of something, some reason, to do with what their actual job entailed.
And that should also go for what is quickly becoming a scourge among emergency responders in this country — Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Everyone has likely heard news reports of military personnel and veterans taking their own lives as a result of what they have done or witnessed on the battlefield or during tours of duty on peacekeeping missions.
That said, first responders in Canada are haunted by images just as bad and are dying in numbers not seen before.
It’s estimated that around 70,000 first responders across the country have experienced PTSD in their lifetime. Meanwhile, last year in British Columbia at total of 19 first responders suffering from PTSD committed suicide before any help could be found for them.
Even with no nationwide statistics, the fact there were that many in one province would leave one to think the issue is a serious and far too prevalent one to be ignored. Unfortunately, in many jurisdictions and sectors, the issue is either being pushed aside or left in the hands of the first responders who are unable to deal with it.
PTSD is a growing mental health crisis and needs serious consideration from all levels of government along with a commitment, not platitudes, to save the lives of those who have dedicated themselves to ensuring the safety of the public. If not now, then the numbers of those left to be the firefighters, police and EMS will dwindle and they won’t be around when help is needed.
But that is…just an observation.