Nfld. & Labrador

C.B.S. launches mental health training for firefighters

A program developed by firefighters for firefighters will soon be offered to the members of the Conception Bay South fire department.

Resilient Minds was developed by Canadian Mental Health Association and Vancouver Fire Rescue Services

The Conception Bay South fire department will be the first one in Newfoundland and Labrador to undergo a new mental health training program. (John Heffernan/Twitter)

A program developed by firefighters for firefighters to help deal with work place stress and trauma will soon be offered to the members of the Conception Bay South fire department.

C.B.S. fire Chief John Heffernan said firefighters are four times more likely to have symptoms of psychological disorders than the general public.

"We really need to get ahead of the curve with this stuff. To be able to deal with these situations and mitigate any potential incidents or an occurrence of an operational stress injury."

The Resilient Minds course is a collaboration between the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Vancouver Fire Rescue Services that has been offered since 2016.

It's been rolled out in other provinces across Canada and required training for firefighters in Victoria.

When the training is offered in Conception Bay South later this year, Heffernan said, it will be the first time it's been offered in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

A captain at the fire hall, Richard Hynes, and another firefighter from Newfoundland and Labrador, have completed a program for trainers.

Heffernan describes the training as a peer-to-peer course to develop strategies to help manage the stress of the job. The course will also better prepare firefighters when it comes to dealing with members of the public in distress, he said.

Chief John Heffernan, left, and Capt. Richard Hynes hold the course's training manual. (Town of Conception Bay South)

Heffernan said his staff deals with a lot more than just fighting fires — firefighters are often the first responders to accident scenes and other medical calls — and the course should help them if any psychological problems arise, not just in themselves but in their colleagues as well.

"Sometimes we may not see things in ourselves and we may see things in others."

The fire department is a stand-alone fire service, separate from the St. John's regional fire department, which serves Paradise, Mount Pearl and St. John's.

With close to 50 firefighters, a mix of career workers and volunteers, Heffernan said, the training has been welcomed.

"We want to try and deal with the cumulative effects of stress that are specifically related to the scope of the work that we perform," he added. "An important part of that is reducing the stigma around mental health." 

While a date has not been set for the training to happen, it should happen in the coming week, said Heffernan. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic it will be offered virtually, which will the training to be offered to regions across the province.

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Jeremy Eaton is a reporter and videojournalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.


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