Fire chiefs met with senior government officials and MPs during a two-day lobbying effort on Parliament Hill, including Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan (centre). Campbell River’s fire chief, Thomas Doherty, is at right. Photo courtesy Thomas Doherty

Vancouver Island fire chief pleads with Ottawa for traumatic stress support

Campbell River fire chief Thomas Doherty presented concerns to federal government

Campbell River’s fire chief says the federal government should provide better mental health support for firefighters and other first responders who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He took that message to Ottawa as part of a delegation of fire chiefs that met with MPs and government officials in the capital last month. One of their key demands was help for first responders whose traumatic experiences frequently drive them to suicide, Doherty said in an interview with the Mirror.

At one point, a group of 16 chiefs sat down to discuss mental illness, and they counted the number of suicides among firefighters from the past year alone that they knew of.

“We came up with 15 suicides this year that we were aware of,” Doherty said. “And that doesn’t include any of the ones that attempted and survived the ordeal.”

Doherty, who represented B.C. fire chiefs during the meetings, said the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) wants to make sure that people at the front lines get access to mental health support.

The CAFC said in a document prepared for MPs that the federal government has recognized that mental health is an issue for first responders. But while longer-term efforts are being put into place, interim measures are needed immediately, the group said. That includes resilience training that is already available to federal employees – but not to firefighters.

The fire chiefs also pressed for a $50-million safety innovation fund that Doherty said would help fire departments to prepare for changes in policy that affect their work, such as a revision in the provincial building code that allows for six-storey wood-frame structures.

“These new codes came into effect, and there’s been no research done on it from a fire perspective,” Doherty said, adding that fire chiefs are also looking to have more influence on policy-making before changes come into effect.

READ MORE: Man charged after B.C house fire triggers high-grade explosives

READ MORE: Rash of fires in Campbell River’s south end prompts fire safety reminder

Other major demands put forward by the CAFC included clarifying procedures for cross-border deployments of heavy urban search and rescue teams.

Those teams of professional first responders – notably one based in Vancouver – are hampered from responding to large-scale emergencies across provincial or international borders by certain regulations, such as a requirement that nurses be licensed in the province where they operate, Doherty said.

The CAFC also wants the federal government to reinstate a program that used to help fire departments purchase equipment. Doherty said the program was dissolved for lack of use, and that it involved a process that he described as cumbersome.

Small rural volunteer fire departments in particular need help in paying for equipment, he said. Tools for decontaminating firefighting gear is especially important, he said, citing high rates of cancer among firefighters.

A fifth demand put forward by the CAFC is an advisory secretariat that would serve as the interface between fire departments across the country and the various agencies of government that need their support, he said.

Doherty met with a number of elected officials and senior government figures during the Ottawa visit, including North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney and Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan, among others.

Campbell River’s fire chief, who is also a director with Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC representing Vancouver Island, said the delegation was well-received, although it didn’t manage to extract firm commitments from the federal government.

The lobbying initiative, called Fire Chiefs on the Hill, brought 25 fire chiefs from across the country to the capital, where they held some 80 meetings on Nov. 26-27, Doherty said.


@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich calls for applicants to join Housing Strategy task force

Council to appoint ‘diverse group’ to tackle housing challenges

North Saanich submits ALR exclusion despite large opposition

Opposed North Saanich residents now shift their attention to ALC after 6-1 council vote

B.C. ends short experiment with growler fills at restaurants

Province extends take-out sales of six-packs, wine

VicPD seeking witnesses for fatal crash on Hillside Avenue

A pedestrian was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries, where she later died

21 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in B.C. as virus ‘silently circulates’ in broader community

Health officials urge British Columbians to enjoy summer safely as surge continues

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of July 13

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Tough time for tree fruits as some B.C. farm products soar

Province reports record 2019 sales, largely due to cannabis

‘Let’s all do a self-check’: Okanagan mayor reacts to racist vandalism targeting local family

Home of Indo-Canadian family in Summerland was targeted on evening of July 13

Province agrees to multimillion-dollar payout for alleged victims of Kelowna social worker

Robert Riley Saunders is accused of misappropriating funds of children — often Indigenous — in his care

Feds fund safe drug supply pilot program for Cowichan

The opioid overdose crisis continues to be one of the most serious public health crises

B.C. businessman David Sidoo gets 3 months behind bars for college admissions scam

Sidoo was sentenced for hiring someone take the SATs in place of his two sons

PHOTOS: Inside a newly-listed $22M mega-mansion on ALR land in B.C.

The large home, located on ALR land, is one of the last new mansions to legally be built on ALR land

Most Read