Charlottetown firefighters will soon have access to a new mental health education program, developed in B.C. by firefighters specifically for firefighters.

The program, called Resilient Minds, was created through a partnership between the Canadian Mental Health Association in British Columbia and the Vancouver Fire Department.

"It's the first of its kind and we're looking at rolling it out to as many departments as we can," said Amanda Brazil, of the Canadian Mental Health Association, PEI Division. She's also a six-year veteran of the Cross Roads Fire Department.

"There's great interest across the country so we're really fortunate that we can be the second province that can start implementing."

Firefighter

The new mental health education program was designed specifically for firefighters. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

'Big impact'

Vancouver's fire department launched the program in February 2016 to help members recognize when they or a colleague may need some extra help.

About half of firefighters in the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services at the time reported having marital problems and they had a 30 per cent higher suicide rate than the average Canadian.

"It has had a big impact in B.C., it has become mandatory training for Victoria firefighters and it's being rolled out across the province," said Brazil.

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Amanda Brazil has been a volunteer firefighter with the Cross Roads Fire Department for the last six years and that inspired her PhD research. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Filling a gap

As well as her work with the CMHA, Brazil has done research focusing on the effect of stressful calls on volunteer firefighters across the Island, as part of her PhD at UPEI. 

Brazil interviewed more than 100 of her peers, and learned 65 per cent of the firefighters she surveyed had no training in critical incidents or PTSD.

The new program from B.C., she said, fills that gap.

"This is more of a preventative, an educative and an awareness program," said Brazil.

"It teaches members about the effects that trauma can have, when the impact can become problematic."

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There has been interest from across Canada in the program developed in B.C. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Raising awareness

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

"Debriefing is excellent but this provides awareness," explained Brazil.

"When people can recognize and understand some of the things that they may be going through, and when those feelings and those thoughts become problematic, it will help prevent longer term concerns."

The program also includes a module that teaches members to respond when dealing with people struggling with mental health or addictions issues, added Brazil.

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The Charlottetown Fire Department was the first on P.E.I. to sign up for the new mental health training program. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

Education is key

The Charlottetown Fire Department was the first to sign up for the new program.

"Education is the key obviously, and making members aware of signs and symptoms of what they're experiencing," said Tim Mamye, deputy fire chief for Charlottetown.

"We respond to some incidents that stay with you for a while."

PEI Firefighter mental health 1

Tim Mamye, deputy fire chief, of the Charlottetown Fire Department, says his members respond to some incidents that 'stay with you for a while.' (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

Mamye says there is already a rigorous debriefing process in place after critical incidents.

"It's not something now that you take home and try to bottle up, it's something you can actually share with your peers and with the health professionals."

'The need is there'

Trainers from B.C. will be on Prince Edward Island in mid-September to train members from participating fire departments as Resilient Mind facilitators. 

"This is a peer to peer program and we will train firefighters from different departments to deliver the program to their members," said Brazil.

"The need is there and there is a gap and CMHA has recognized that there is a gap with our first responders, particularly firefighters."

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Amanda Brazil has done research on the impact of critical incidents on volunteer firefighters on P.E.I. as part of her PhD thesis. (Nancy Russell/CBC)