BALGONIE, Sask. – When Mitchell Lapchuk first arrived on the scene in June 2010, a junior volunteer firefighter in Balgonie, he first thought he was assisting at a minor car accident:
“It looked like a completely different scene when I first pulled up,” he explained.
But then he recognized one of the cars.
“I got up even with it and I was like, ‘That’s my friend,’ and that’s when I lost it. I just shut down,” he said.
Seeing his former classmate dying, Lapchuk later suffered post traumatic stress, but never received help. Instead, binge eating and alcohol helped him cope. Later, he struggled to become a paramedic – often having flashbacks of that tragic afternoon.
“It’s a real issue because there’s no support out there for us. We’re not covered by any plans and some of the small communities out there can’t afford the counseling that may be needed,” explained Doug Lapchuk, Saskatchewan Volunteer Firefighter Association president and Mitchell’s father.
Doug has spent the last six years trying to get support for volunteer firefighters, but when municipalities struggle to afford equipment, he said no one’s stepping up to pay for treatment for psychological injuries.
“In the fire service, which is noted for having a very high stress level at any given time, the rates of PTSD are reported anywhere from 17 to 30 per cent of the population,” said Ernie Polsom, Regina Fire and Protective Services chief and director.
Firefighters – whether professional or volunteer – are asked to do more than they were two decades ago.
“We have emergency medical responses, we go out in support of our EMS system so we’re dealing with people daily on a much more emergent basis,” said Polsom.
First responders sometimes can’t admit they need treatment.
“I don’t need nothing. I’m a tough guy. And then when I met my fiance she kind of went, ‘Really, idiot? Do you want to talk to somebody?'” said Mitchell Lapchuk.
He did – and after getting treatment to help him cope, successfully became a paramedic.