The Victoria Fire Department is partnering with the Canadian Mental Health Association to help address post-traumatic stress among first responders who report facing a 10-fold increase in overdose calls. 

Victoria Fire Department Deputy Chief Daniel Atkinson told On the Island host Gregor Craigie that firefighters are attending an increasing number of overdose calls: from an average 6 or 7 a month in 2015 to a current rate of 60 or 70.

"What we're starting to see is it's taking a toll on our firefighters both mentally and physically," Atkinson said. 

He said two Victoria firefighters have suffered what he called work-related "mental injury" in the past.

Until recently, response to trauma focused on post-incident care, debriefing and defusing.

Training focused on pre-incident care

"What we're finding now is we really need to focus on the pre-incident care," Atkinson said.

The Canadian Mental Health Association originally worked with the Vancouver Fire Department to develop the program specifically targeted on the needs and experience of firefighters. 

Similar to physical conditioning, he said, a healthy mind is better able to recognize stressors and reduce the risk of injury.

First-responder suicides raised alarm 

"In the past we really didn't recognize it. We really started taking notice around 2014 when the statistics started coming out." he said, noting there were 48 suicides among first responders in Canada last year. 

Victoria is the first fire department on Vancouver Island to adopt the program, with 13 members certified as instructors to provide the training in Victoria as well as to firefighters in other parts of the region.

"The main goal of the program is to make sure we have a happy health workplace and to make sure that we recognize those early warning signs and those stressors to make sure we have strong mental resiliency", Atkinson said.


To listen to the interview with Victoria Fire Department Deputy Chief Daniel Atkinson go to the audio labelled Mandatory training to prevent PTSD among Victoria firefighters