Wellington County fire chief develops PTSD support plan

Wellington North fire chief Dave Guilbault has developed a PTSD support plan, focusing on prevention, intervention and recovery for firefighters who are exposed to trauma on the job.

Focuses on prevention, intervention and recovery

Wellington North Fire Chief Dave Guilbault developed a PTSD plan for his team back in 2017. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Firefighters in Wellington North now have a plan to help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder, and support firefighters who may be struggling with it.

Fire Chief Dave Guilbault has been developing the plan since 2015, and presented it to the Wellington County Fire Chiefs in late April. He says many firefighters have experienced a traumatic incident, and the effects of that trauma can linger for years. 

One such incident came early in Guilbault's career. He was called to a house fire, with a toddler reportedly trapped in a second floor bedroom. As he and his partner searched an upstairs room, a call came in saying the eighteen-month-old was actually in a converted attic — a third floor room the firefighters didn't know about.

They didn't get to her in time. 

"You start with the guilt," he told CBC KW's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris. "'Could we have got there quicker? Could we have advanced the hose line quicker? Could we have got better information?" 

When he returned home, he learned the "old" method of processing what he'd been through.  

"My father was a fire captain...he says, 'You're a firefighter, suck it up,'" said Guilbault. "God love him, World War Two veteran, and they just dealt with things differently back then, but we can't do that today. And we won't do it today." 

His new plan focuses on prevention, intervention and recovery.  

The department now provides training to recognize PTSD symptoms. The plan requires a chaplain to go home or to the hospital with firefighters who may have experienced trauma, staying with them if they determine they're experiencing an "unusually strong" reaction to an event.

"It's a myriad of things that can have an impact on firefighters," says Guilbault. "And maybe not today, maybe a month from now, a year from now." 

To account for that, the new plan also encourages ongoing communication. 

In smaller communities, you could be more likely to answer a call involving someone you know, he says. And if you're a volunteer, like most people at the Wellington North fire services, you may even have to head home or to another job after a call. 

Guilbault says, difficult situations are part of the job, but asking for help when you need it should be as well. 

"We know it's coming," he says. "But there's a process to follow now...because we care about our firefighters."


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