Calorado Hudkins didn't drink coffee until he started working night shifts as a firefighter with the County of Grande Prairie five years ago.

Now he sells hundreds of bags from his home in Grande Prairie. 

The 27-year-old firefighter launched True Heroes Coffee Company in March 2017 to raise money for first responders struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"I just figured it would be a nice way to be able to give back into the brotherhood that I'm part of — maybe just do something a little bit bigger than myself," he said. 

"It gives back to a lot of the things that are close to me."

First responders are more likely than the general population to suffer from the symptoms of PTSD, social anxiety, depression and panic disorder, according to research concluded in January 2017 by a group of Canadian mental health experts. 

The research, which is published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, showed 44.5 per cent of the 5,813 first responders surveyed had serious symptoms of one or more mental disorders. The rate for the general population is 10 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

Calorado Hudkins

Firefighter Calorado Hudkins launched a coffee company in 2017 to raise money for first responders struggling with PTSD. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Hudkins said he has experienced the symptoms of PTSD second-hand, through friends and family members who work as firefighters, police officers, soldiers and nurses.

​"It's something that I've seen a little bit of and it was enough that I didn't like it and I wanted to help as best I could," Hudkins said. "But I only have so much money in my own personal pocket to dish out."

For years, he toyed with the idea of starting a charity to support fellow first responders.

"Coffee was always something we would sit around [and] talk about how bad it was at the station," he said. "It kind of developed from there."

Hudkins sold his first bag of coffee to a colleague last November, eight months after launching True Heroes Coffee Company.

The beans are grown in Peru, then shipped to a roaster in Vancouver, B.C., from whom Hudkins buys four custom blends.

He sells the coffee online and from his home. A café and a health food shop in Grande Prairie also carry the product in their stores.

GP Fireman Coffee

The coffee is sourced from Peru and roasted in Vancouver, B.C. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

"The community and the following has gone up quite a bit and I believe that it's going to skyrocket from here," Hudkins said.

In the past three months, he has sold nearly 500 bags of coffee online and in person. Many of his new customers are first responders, including firefighters as far away as the Maritimes.

Hudkins is setting aside 10 per cent of his profits for charity, to start. He said he plans to increase the percentage once his business expands and he has paid back his investors.

Once he has saved enough money for his first donation, Hudkins said he will choose a charity that supports first responders in Canada.

In the meantime, Hudkins said he also wants to give buyers the option of donating bags of his coffee to workplaces with a high concentration of first responders, such as fire halls, hospitals and police detachments.

"I've got lots of big goals," he said. "I'll start out small and grow as I go."

@ZoeHTodd