Firefighter wants services to help first responders suffering from PTSD

Fredericton firefighter Jeff Mack says there should be more services for local first responders suffering from PTSD. (File photo). Laura Brown/Global News

FREDERICTON, N.B. – A Fredericton firefighter wants the federal and provincial governments to provide more services for first responders who are dealing with mental illness because of their high-stress careers.

Jeff Mack said he met his tipping point in 2005.

“I was involved in a fire in 2005. My partner almost lost his life. I almost lost mine,” Mack told Global News.

He said he had collected a “wheelbarrow” full of traumatic memories and experiences in his 29-year career with the Fredericton Fire Dept.

“My wife couldn’t understand where all my anger came from,” he said. “This was one of the symptoms of my PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], undirected anger.”
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“She couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t understand it,” Mack said. “I was just angry all the time.”

He added he also had to battle with alcohol and substance abuse.

He was formally diagnosed with PTSD and, while first responders set out to fix things, Mack said he could not fix his condition.

“I went to a general counsellor, a family counsellor, and she was up front with me and told me she wouldn’t be able to help me,” he said. “It’s very distressing to come home after that and have to look in the phone book and try to find someone who will help you.”

According to a 2009 joint study by the University of Ottawa and the University of Washington, about 17 per cent of Canadian firefighters suffer from PTSD. 

Fredericton psychologist Joan Wright said people are built like refrigerators, comparing the build-up of bad experiences to a fridge filling up with mouldy food.

“We have a crazy part of our brain, and so crazy behaviors, whether that’s suicide, whether that’s acting out sexually, whether that’s [aggression] against your partner, that’s all part of the refrigerator being too full,” she said.

Mack ended up traveling across the country to find help, at a treatment centre in Nanaimo, B.C.

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But, he would like to see a facility in the Maritimes.

Mack said three Fredericton paramedics have committed suicide in the last two years. And while exactly what they were going through may never be known, he explained all first responders should be encouraged to seek support.

“It really is disheartening when they do come out and they ask for the help and you don’t know where to send them,” Mack said.

Mack is now in recovery, but he’s trying to do his part to help other first responders cope with the trauma they have experienced.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that I would have died. I was close to death at the time,” he said.

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