Police, fire and ambulance personnel face high PTSD rates

WINNIPEG — Alex Forrest clearly remembers what happened to a fellow firefighter who was traumatized by the deaths of two captains in a house fire.

WINNIPEG — Alex Forrest clearly remembers what happened to a fellow firefighter who was traumatized by the deaths of two captains in a house fire.

It was two months after the Winnipeg blaze in 2007 that killed Tom Nichols and Harold Lessard, and Forrest knew his colleague was having a hard time coping.

“I checked up on him and he had killed himself in a garage, and he was holding the pamphlet from the memorial,” Forrest, head of the Winnipeg firefighters union, recalled last week.

“Many of the firefighters are still suffering the effects of that fire.”

Forrest is one of many emergency responders across the country, including police officers and ambulance crews, who are fighting for better treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

He says the condition has been around a long time — he remembers early in his career 25 years ago when one firefighter committed suicide — but people are more willing to talk about the issue now.

There have been high-profile cases in recent weeks, including that of Ken Barker, a retired RCMP corporal and dog handler who took his own life.

His family told the Winnipeg Free Press that Barker had struggled with PTSD after seeing many horrific crimes over the years, including the 2008 beheading of Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus.

Vince Savoia is a former paramedic and advocate who set up the Tema Conter Memorial Trust Fund in honour of a young woman killed in Toronto in 1988. He said there have been at least 15 suicides by first responders across Canada since April 28. The total is based on media reports and information given directly to his organization, which embarked on a cross-country tour this year to raise awareness of PTSD. The number surprised even him.

“I’m really hoping this is just a blip …. because I just can’t see this continuing,” Savoia said from his organization’s Toronto headquarters.

While suicide is the most extreme outcome of PTSD, both Savoia and Forrest say the condition can manifest itself in many different ways — depression, substance abuse, divorce or an inability to work.

A 2012 study by psychiatric researchers in Brazil estimated that, worldwide, 10 per cent of emergency responders suffer from PTSD. That number was comparable to the rate among United States military personnel who had served in Iraq. It was much higher than rates among the general population of the countries that were studied — those rates varied between one per cent and 3.5 per cent.

In Canada, there is a growing movement to try to treat PTSD in emergency responders. British Columbia and Alberta have recently changed worker compensation laws to make PTSD a presumptive condition. That means emergency responders suffering from the disorder will be presumed to have it as a direct result of their jobs, making it easier to qualify for compensation and treatment.

The Ontario government has reintroduced a similar bill in the legislature and Manitoba appears ready to follow suit.

Just Posted

Advocate poll shows another hospital wanted in Red Deer

Over 50 per cent of voters support second hospital

Olds RCMP has new detachment commander

Staff Sgt. Jim MacDonald now on the job

Off-highway vehicles recovered on Sunchild

Rocky Mountain House RCMP notifying owners

Alberta’s status of women minister joins Twitter debate over women’s marches

EDMONTON — A minister in Alberta’s NDP government has chastised a tweet… Continue reading

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

DJ Sabatoge and TR3 Band kick off Sylvan Lake’s Winterfest 2018

Central Alberta’s youngest DJ will open for TR3 Band kicking off Town… Continue reading

Two Canadians, two Americans abducted in Nigeria are freed

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria, especially on the Kaduna to Abuja highway

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

Liberals quietly tap experts to write new paternity leave rules

Ideas include creating an entirely new leave benefit similar to one that exists in Quebec

Insurers say Canadian weather getting hotter, wetter and weirder

Average number of days with heavy rain or snow across Canada has been outside norm since spring 2013

Are you ready for some wrestling? WWE’s ‘Raw’ marks 25 years

WWE flagship show is set to mark its 25th anniversary on Monday

VIDEO: Thousands join women’s march events across B.C.

Today marks one year since the first Women’s March on Washington

In photos: Get ready for Western Canadian Championships

Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Championships and Peavey Mart Alberta Cup 5/6 start… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month