Working on the front lines of emergency service, as a paramedic, firefighter, police officer, first responder or dispatcher, is inherently a stressful job.
Don Devine, a retired paramedic who now lives in Scotch Creek, is part of an effort that wants to have this notion recognized in legislation, so that frontline emergency workers can have easier access to treatment and counselling to deal with the stresses from their work, be it paid or volunteer.
The group is petitioning for a “presumptive clause” to be added to WorkSafe BC and other legislation. This means that it is automatically presumed that a person with this type of job is at risk for mental health problems like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and can access treatment immediately, rather than having to prove their claim is legitimate.
“Even though things have improved, we want more protections for people who have a mental health injury. With jobs like these, it can be one traumatic event that can trigger an issue or a lot of little things that can get you, but the results can be the same – depression, withdrawal, anger, exhaustion,” says Devine. “These are our first responders and they deserve immediate care and financial assistance, not going through a run-around of defining whether they have a legitimate claim.”
Devine worked for 32 years as a paramedic in both rural and urban areas of the province, and has his own experience with PTSD. He was routinely dealing with high stress and traumatic situations, including being one of the first responders to the scene where nine members of the Gakhal and Saran families were gunned down by the husband of Rajwar Gakhal in Vernon on April 5, 1996.
“People were hiding, no one knew where the shooter was, it was chaos… As a first responder you learn to put away your emotions and keep them in a bucket inside you, but one day my bucket overflowed,” said Devine.
Devine and others involved in the cause have also garnered some significant support. On Sept. 24, the Union of BC Municipalities passed unanimously a resolution supporting a presumptive clause for First Responders in BC.
Still in the organizational stages, Devine plans to visit malls and other public places in Chase, Sicamous, Sorrento, Salmon Arm and Vernon with copies of the petition, and hopes that when people see him, they will add their names to the effort.
You can learn more about the issue and the petition at: www.youarenotaloneptsdbc.ca.