Death of Fond-du-Lac firefighter reflects mental health concerns in northern Sask.

Volunteer firefighters from Fond-du-Lac, Sask. are preparing for a national competition following the tragic death of one of their colleagues.

2nd firefighter suicide in the past 3 years

Volunteer firefighters from Fond-du-Lac seen at a 2017 national competition. (Submitted by Derek Cook)

For the second time in three years, the Fond-du-Lac fire department has lost one of its members to suicide. 

On Saturday, Frank Jr. McDonald, 22, took his own life, leaving behind several family members including his parents, siblings and a young daughter.

He was a part of Fond-du-Lac's 14-member volunteer firefighting crew, which is scheduled to compete in a national competition on Saturday — a week after McDonald's death.

Frank McDonald, 22, died unexpectedly on Aug. 4. He was a volunteer firefighter in Fond-du-Lac for almost five years. (Submitted by Derek Cook)

"It's going to be a little tough, but we're going to try to pull through and stay strong as a team," said Derek Cook, who's been a volunteer firefighter in Fond-du-Lac for 12 years. 

He says McDonald was an integral part of the team and the Fond-du-Lac community. He played hockey, worked with youth and "touched a lot of people's hearts," Cook said. 

"He didn't say much, but he always had a smile on his face," he said. "It's kind of hard just knowing that he's passed."

Losses difficult

In 2015, the fire department dealt with a similar situation when Deajay Mercredi took his life. Like McDonald, Mercredi was a volunteer firefighter in his early 20s. 

Cook says the losses have been difficult for the firefighting team, especially as they prepare to compete. 

"When it comes to competitions, we're always together," he said. "It's really hard."

Deajay Mercredi was a volunteer firefighter in Fond-du-Lac when he died in 2015. (Submitted by Derek Carter)

Mental health concerns

Cook says mental health and suicide are concerns in Fond-du-Lac. 

He says the isolation and lack of resources can take a toll on people, but he emphasizes the importance of asking for help.

"People who are suffering from whatever it is, they just need to reach out more so they can get help and not hold it inside," he said.

The community is still recovering from a plane crash that happened last year, Cook says, which is adding to mental health concerns.

On Dec. 13, a plane carrying 25 people crashed  in Fond-du-Lac shortly after takeoff. Many people were hospitalized, with 19-year-old Arson Fern Jr. dying from his injuries.

After the crash, Fond-Du-Lac Dene Nation Chief Louis Mercredi said the community is in need of additional mental health resources.

As a result, five mental health therapists were brought in to help community members recover from the crash.

In March, the provincial government said it was working with federal and First Nations leaders to address mental health concerns in northern Saskatchewan.

Competing for community

Despite the recent loss, Cook says it's important for the firefighters to participate at this weekend's national competition.

"We want to just do this for the community and make everybody proud during this tough time," he said. "It's such a small community but people do come together in tough situations like this."

He says the competition is a way to honour their fallen members while doing something positive.

With files from Chelsea Laskowski