Early intervention counselling helps Halifax firefighters cope after fatal house fire

CTV News

Some of the firefighters and other emergency personnel who responded to the fire that killed seven children in Halifax more than a week ago have requested counseling to help them deal with what they encountered.

While the cause of that fire remains under investigation, the fire department says mental health support for the first responders began the very same day.

Even the support from the community has been heartfelt and appreciated, said Halifax Deputy Fire Chief Dave Meldrum.

He reads a typical comment: “Thank you to the responders, who risked their own safety to respond to this tragedy,” Meldrum says as he reads a message.

This is just one of the hundreds of messages Halifax Fire has received since seven children lost their lives in a tragic house fire 10 days ago.

“You know, I think it makes a huge difference,” he said. “I think firefighters really are strengthened by the support.”

But with that also comes the harsh reality that responding to a fire that took the lives of seven children -- and left their father badly burned -- takes an emotional toll.

“It could be flashbacks to what they were just exposed to, it could be not sleeping well, not eating well,” said Paul MacKenzie of the firefighters and family assistance program.

MacKenzie knows the signs to look for when it comes to critical incident stress. The 30-year police veteran coordinates counseling for Halifax's firefighters.

He says assistance for those on the scene began the very day of the fire with a peer support team on-site.

Those same counselors called every member personally once they were off-shift to check in.

MacKenzie says out of more than fifty emergency responders involved, more than half have requested and are getting additional support.

Everybody responds differently, MacKenzie said, so they just advise personnel that there are support services available 24/7.

Halifax fire says crews from at least seven stations responded to the scene that day - and all of them are now back on the job.

To MacKenzie, that's a testament to the effectiveness of early intervention.

“The firefighters are saying, do everything you can for the family members, they’re more important, we're fine, we're doing good, we have good support services, but I know that their concern was for the family,” he said.

Meanwhile, notes of thanks keep coming in, even some on little scraps of paper with just the simple message: “Thank you.”

 

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