Halifax first responders facing ‘trauma every day’, and a push to get them more support

Click to play video: 'Push to help Halifax first responders who face trauma daily'
Push to help Halifax first responders who face trauma daily
Halifax council is taking the first step towards a funding model for enhancing intensive mental health support for first responders. As Megan King reports, municipal staff are working on recommendations for specialized non-traditional methods of care and psychological safety support to assist first responders in need – Mar 5, 2024

A Halifax councillor is pushing to implement enhanced mental health support for first responders grappling with challenging conditions throughout the region.

Tony Mancini, who represents the Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East area, submitted a request to present a motion at this week’s council meeting in which he hopes incentivize a report that will identify a pathway to fund intensive mental health support for first responders.

The letter acknowledged that although psychological support is necessary in every workforce, there is an “increased risk” for first responders, specifically police, firefighters, and 911 workers.

“The individuals in these roles are not only impacted by the decline in mental health that was a risk for everyone during the pandemic, but they are also the ones who interact with residents in their hardest moments and with the increase in extreme weather events and homelessness,” the statement read.

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“They are facing trauma and crisis every day.”

Mancini’s letter said that workers dealing with post-traumatic stress injury often need specialized in-patient care that is dependent “on best practices and evidence-based treatment” — and is designed specifically for first responders.

Click to play video: 'Halifax councillor hopes to bring more mental health support for first responders'
Halifax councillor hopes to bring more mental health support for first responders

‘Gaps’ in mental health support

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In an interview with Global News on Sunday, Mancini said conversations with firefighters in his community were a leading factor in him bringing this issue to the forefront.

“Some of the things they see can take a toll on the most trained and the toughest first responder,” he said, adding that a recent conversation with a fire chief informed him about the “gaps” regarding mental health supports for firefighters in the municipality.

Mancini referenced some community-led initiatives that are raising money to support firefighters with medical costs in the area, but he said more municipal support should exist in Halifax.

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“As a municipality, we have to support all our first responders… if they need that kind of help, we should be supporting it,” the councillor said.

“I’m not looking for funding forever… while the province is working on filling those gaps, in the interim if we (can) come up with a model or a program that helps to support financially those first responders, if they need it.”

Mancini said he’d like to establish a “pool of money” that will last for several years and be accessible to first responders who need certain psychological services that currently don’t exist locally.

“We’re asking our firefighters and police officers to do incredible work, and they do it,” he continued.

“What’s the aftermath of what they do in those situations? And if they need the utmost care, we as a municipality should be providing that to these first responders.”

Mancini said he will be asking for support from his colleagues on Tuesday to direct staff to hold conversations with the local fire and police unions on additional mental health support for first responders.

“We should figure out how do we do that, where does that money come from, and how do we support our first responders,” he said.

‘We see terrible things’

Brendan Meagher, president of Halifax Professional Firefighters Association, said the accumulation of trauma experienced throughout a lengthy career can sometimes leave a mark on first responders.

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“We see terrible things and many of us see terrible things a number of times,” he said during an interview on Sunday.

“We all experience trauma differently, but none of us are immune to it. We all carry some type of occupational stress, whether it’s post-traumatic stress, post-traumatic stress injury or disorder. If you’ve done this work long enough, you carry it.”

Meagher said the introduction of a trauma-informed mental health program for first responders in Halifax would make a “significant difference.”

“We have some very unique experiences and exposures… that many members of society wouldn’t experience and let alone experience on a repeated basis like we do over years in our career as responders,” he continued. Maegher also said that research is still ongoing nationwide to determine the best way to offer relevant mental health services to providers.

Meagher added that there always remains a camaraderie shared amongst firefighters and other first responders — along with a significant sense of pride.

But the challenges remain.

“The service that we provide comes at a price to the provider,” he said.

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