Volunteer firefighter explores post-traumatic stress for PhD
'It's okay to talk about these things because we're all experiencing it'
Amanda Brazil has a unique and very personal perspective on the research she's doing for her UPEI PhD focusing on the effect of stressful calls on volunteer firefighters — she's a five-year veteran of the Cross Roads Fire Department.
Brazil has experienced traumatic incidents first-hand, and reflected on those incidents and how she managed them.
I want it to become a culture of sharing and support.— Amanda Brazil
"As first responders, or as volunteer firefighters, how do we learn what a critical incident is?" explained Brazil. "Then, how do we learn how we manage those and respond to those"
"Because it's not necessarily an explicit learning. It's something that we figure out as we go along."
Definitions of distress
"The definition that I used a critical or traumatic incident is any event outside the usual realm of human experience that is markedly distressing," she said.
Defining what is critical or traumatic is subjective, Brazil said
"It doesn't mean that there had to have been fatalities."
"I have experienced some, after major calls to fires and car accidents and medical calls. It's important to do a debriefing after with everybody."
'Most people have had numerous exposures'
"What we're seeing is that most people have had numerous exposures," summarized Brazil.
Volunteer experience is different
Brazil's research is unique in that most of the literature on PTSD and firefighters focuses on professionals and not volunteers, even though volunteers make up 85 per cent of the firefighters in Canada.
She also heard from Island volunteers who said they have experienced distress after a call because of the nature of firefighting in a very small community.
"You don't know who you're responding to and more often than not, you'll know them somehow," said Brazil.
"Or somebody in your department will know this person and it could be family, it could be friends, and that really does make it more difficult."
'We're all experiencing it'
"It's okay to talk about these things because we're all experiencing it."
Brazil will use the survey results as groundwork for her dissertation, which will focus on interviews with Island firefighters.
She will present the results of her study at the Canadian Sociological Association Conference in Calgary in June.