Fire chiefs met with senior government officials and MPs during a two-day lobbying effort on Parliament Hill, including Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan (centre). Campbell River’s fire chief, Thomas Doherty, is at right. Photo courtesy Thomas Doherty

B.C. fire chief pleads with Ottawa for traumatic stress support

Campbell River fire chief Thomas Doherty presented concerns to federal government

A B.C. fire chief says the federal government should provide better mental health support for firefighters and other first responders who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Thomas Doherty, Campbell River’s fire chief, took that message to Ottawa as part of a delegation of fire chiefs that met with MPs and government officials in the capital last month.

One of their key demands was help for first responders whose traumatic experiences frequently drive them to suicide, Doherty said in an interview with the Campbell River Mirror.

At one point, a group of 16 chiefs sat down to discuss mental illness, and they counted the number of suicides among firefighters from the past year alone that they knew of.

“We came up with 15 suicides this year that we were aware of,” Doherty said. “And that doesn’t include any of the ones that attempted and survived the ordeal.”

Doherty, who represented B.C. fire chiefs during the meetings, said the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) wants to make sure that people at the front lines get access to mental health support.

READ MORE: B.C. nurses rally over inclusion in PTSD bill

WATCH: B.C.-born firefighter remembered by MP in emotional speech

The CAFC said in a document prepared for MPs that the federal government has recognized that mental health is an issue for first responders. But while longer-term efforts are being put into place, interim measures are needed immediately, the group said. That includes resilience training that is already available to federal employees – but not to firefighters.

The fire chiefs also pressed for a $50-million safety innovation fund that Doherty said would help fire departments to prepare for changes in policy that affect their work, such as a revision in the provincial building code that allows for six-storey wood-frame structures.

“These new codes came into effect, and there’s been no research done on it from a fire perspective,” Doherty said, adding that fire chiefs are also looking to have more influence on policy-making before changes come into effect.

READ MORE: Man charged after B.C house fire triggers high-grade explosives

READ MORE: Rash of fires in Campbell River’s south end prompts fire safety reminder

Other major demands put forward by the CAFC included clarifying procedures for cross-border deployments of heavy urban search and rescue teams.

Those teams of professional first responders – notably one based in Vancouver – are hampered from responding to large-scale emergencies across provincial or international borders by certain regulations, such as a requirement that nurses be licensed in the province where they operate, Doherty said.

The CAFC also wants the federal government to reinstate a program that used to help fire departments purchase equipment. Doherty said the program was dissolved for lack of use, and that it involved a process that he described as cumbersome.

Small rural volunteer fire departments in particular need help in paying for equipment, he said. Tools for decontaminating firefighting gear is especially important, he said, citing high rates of cancer among firefighters.

A fifth demand put forward by the CAFC is an advisory secretariat that would serve as the interface between fire departments across the country and the various agencies of government that need their support, he said.

Doherty met with a number of elected officials and senior government figures during the Ottawa visit, including North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney and Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan, among others.

Campbell River’s fire chief, who is also a director with Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC representing Vancouver Island, said the delegation was well-received, although it didn’t manage to extract firm commitments from the federal government.

The lobbying initiative, called Fire Chiefs on the Hill, brought 25 fire chiefs from across the country to the capital, where they held some 80 meetings on Nov. 26-27, Doherty said.


@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares to swab a man at a walk-in COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal North, Sunday, May 10, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)
Interior Health records 21 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

Thirty-six cases remain active; two people are in the hospital, one of whom is in intensive care

Colin James put on a great show at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds as part of the 2019 Vancouver Island MusicFest. But his Okanagan tour for 2020 has been postponed until 2021. (Photo by Terry Farrell)
COVID-19 cancels more Vernon, Penticton, Cranbrook concerts

The Contenders and Colin James postponed until 2021

Kimberley Minor Hockey players scrimmage with the Dynamiters last year. KMH file
Kimberley and Cranbrook Minor Hockey relationship grows the game for local players

Players can now play to their skill level regardless of city of origin

The KEYSA Indoor Facility is nearing completion as the air-supported dome was raised last week. Trevor Crawley photo.
KEYSA indoor facility project nearing completion

Project remains on budget and set for completion by the end of October

The old Kootenay Springs building on 6th Street in Cranbrook, just off the highway, was on fire Saturday night, Oct 17. Barry Coulter photo
Kootenay Springs building, burns in Cranbrook; other fires still under investigation

Derelict building was on the site of the old Cranbrook Brewery, itself destroyed by fire 95 years ago

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Most Read