Saskatchewan firefighters suffer post-traumatic stress

The Saskatchewan Volunteer Firefighters Association says post-traumatic stress is a problem in fire halls across the province.

Volunteer firefighters need immediate counselling after traumatic calls

The Saskatchewan Volunteer Firefighters' Association says more needs to be done to help firefighters come to terms with the traumatic things they see. (The Canadian Press)

Post-traumatic stress is a problem in volunteer fire halls across the province, according to the Saskatchewan Volunteer Firefighters Association.

It also says that access to care and counselling, especially immediately after disturbing incidents, is sorely lacking.

These days, volunteer firefighters do a lot more that fight fires, Doug Lapchuk, the president of the SVFA said.

"We're responding to motor vehicle collisions, we're responding to catastrophic weather events, we're responding to gas pipeline explosions," he said.

"We see stuff that you will never unsee."

But volunteer firefighters don't get the same incident stress debriefing that other first-responders get. Workers' compensation covers counselling, but only if a doctor orders it.

"There's no coverage available for us, unless you can pay out of pocket," Lapchuk said.

The moments after a harrowing incident are the most important, he said.

"You need somebody to talk to, you need some way to normalize and deal with what it is that we see, because again, we see things that most people aren't subjected to," Lapchuk said.

Lapchuk and other volunteer fire chiefs around the province want critical incident stress debriefing. Lapchuk reports he's been in contact with the Workers' Compensation Board about covering it. Although the board recognizes the benefits of debriefing, it said employers must offer it.

For volunteer firefighters, their employers are small towns and it just isn't in the budget.

Lapchuk said there are other costs incurred by not offering initial counselling after an incident. At least two young firefighters in southeast Saskatchewan left their jobs as volunteer firefighters after experiencing post-traumatic stress at a catastrophic vehicle collision.

"You look at the costs that the fire department has incurred outfitting these people and training them, getting them up to snuff, and then you end up losing them because there isn't support for the volunteer firefighters," Lapchuk said.