Dollars set aside in city budget for firefighter PTSD

Five hundred thousand dollars is being set aside in the City of Windsor budget for post traumatic stress disorder for firefighters. 

It's in case PTSD becomes a bigger issue among firefighters after it was recently added to a list of conditions and is now assumed to be an occupational disease for firefighters.

Steve Laforet, fire chief for Windsor, has been fighting fires for almost 30 years — with 21 of those years on the front lines.

He worked downtown, out of Station One, for about 16 years. While he doesn't identify as having PTSD himself, he said in emergency responders the illness might not be triggered by just one instance. 

"It's not necessarily one call that causes PTSD. It could be the culmination of a number of things on the job," said Laforet. "Everyone experiences it differently."

According to Laforet, there are more firefighters with PTSD now than there was when he started his career.

"In comparison to many years ago, we have staff diagnosed with PTSD. Previously we didn't see that diagnosis."

Laforet added that doesn't mean firefighters didn't have PTSD before — just that mental health "wasn't on the radar."

A few years ago, a 'Peer Support Team' was started by Windsor Fire, deployed when there was an "out of the norm" emergency, according to Laforet — but now they want to provide the staff with tools ahead of time.

"We want to get the help beforehand, before someone is diagnosed with PTSD."

The fire department asked for $1-million from the city, and $500,000 was approved.

Staff will get training called 'Road to Mental Readiness' (R2MR), which is a program hoping to improve short-term performance and long-term mental health outcomes.

R2MR also aims to reduce barriers and encourage early access to care. The Mental Health Commission of Canada is coordinating bringing the program into police and fire departments across the country. 

"When we started developing the program in 2013, police organizations were the first to adopt it," said Michael Pietrus, a director with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. "But very quickly we were approached by fire. There's one for paramedics, corrections and so on."

More than 8,600 firefighters have been trained in the program in Ontario — and more than 12,000 firefighters have been trained Canada-wide.

Pietrus said the programs differ across organizations mostly by the case studies used.

"Firefighters like to hear from firefighters, police officers like to hear from police officers," said Pietrus.

Laforet said part of the training is to make sure everyone knows they can react differently in every situation. Another $170,000 in the form of a federal grant will also be used for mental health and wellness training. 

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