British Columbia·Feature

Firefighters pay tribute to fallen member in Richmond

Hundreds of firefighters and emergency services personnel paid their respects to Capt. Donald Bryan Kongus on Monday. The 44-year-old Richmond firefighter died of work-related PTSD.

Capt. Donald Bryan Kongus received a full honours funeral procession on Monday

Hundreds of firefighters and emergency services personnel paid their respects to Richmond Fire Rescue Capt. Donald Bryan Kongus on Monday.

According to the City of Richmond, 44-year-old Kongus died in August after a long struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cory Parker, president of the Richmond Firefighters Association, said the funeral was delayed until WorkSafeBC concluded an investigation on whether Kongus's death was related to his work.

Bagpipers led first responders as they marched through a quiet north Richmond neighbourhood en route to the Fraserview Church on Mellis Drive.

Firefighters from as far as Ontario joined members from across B.C. to honour Kongus. 

Brad Readman, secretary of the Alberta Firefighters Association, said it was important to make the trip and show a fellow firefighter some support. 

"We do come here to not only support our fellow firefighters, but we're here to show the family that they're a part of our family and we'll be with them for as long as we can be," said Readman.

He said in November, the Alberta group had two firefighter suicides that were related to PTSD. He wants to communicate that it's not an isolated issue, and preventative programs need to be put in place. 

Firefighters extended the ladders of two fire trucks to hang a Canadian flag over the entrance to the Fraserview Church. 

A member of Richmond Fire Rescue looks on as members solemnly parade into the church entrance. 

Born in Jasper, Alta., Kongus grew up in Cobble Hill, B.C., before graduating from the Justice Institute in 1994. He began his career with Richmond Fire Rescue at the age of 21.

Parker said Kongus leaves behind four teenage children and his partner, Barbara. Because WorkSafeBC designated the death as work related, Kongus's family will receive some survivor benefits, according to Parker.

Firefighters, paramedics, police officers and other first responders stood together for a moment of silence. 

According to Parker, Kongus was struggling with PTSD for some time. 

"Bryan saw some things early on in his career, very traumatic things, that 20 years ago there wasn't the help that we have today ... and that followed him around for his whole career. And in the end it was the PTSD that got him; he couldn't take it anymore," said Parker. 

Acting Richmond Fire Rescue Chief Tim Wilkinson said the full honours procession was important to the family.

"This is something that brings so much peace to the family. They can see Bryan from the start of his career to the end of his career being supported the whole way through," said Wilkinson. 

"Bryan was a complex man, he was a very bright person, he was loving," said Wilkinson. 

He said the PTSD made Kongus irritable, moody and difficult to deal with, and ultimately led to his death. 

"This is something that the culture has to deal with, and we have to learn to say no we're not okay, and we do need help."