‘Some things you can’t unsee’: volunteer firefighters describe tragic calls

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WATCH ABOVE: Most rural fire departments are run on volunteer efforts but their members are no less trained for tragedy. Leena Latafat checks in with the Warman Fire Department to see how its volunteers are coping with Sunday’s fatal crash that claimed a family – Jan 6, 2016

WARMAN, Sask. – While many people in Saskatchewan are still trying to wrap their heads around the horrific crash that didn’t spare a single member of the Van de Vorst family, the tone at the Warman fire hall is also somber.

Seventeen of its members were at the scene.

“After the call, some of those things you see you can’t unsee,” said fire chief Russ Austin.

READ MORE: Friends trying to cope after family of four killed in Sask. collision

All of Warman’s firefighters are volunteers. In Canada, 80,000 first responders work for free. One phone call, and they’re willing to drop what they’re doing and jump in. Many of them work full-time jobs.

“There’s nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer. People that end up in fire and EMS as volunteers are incredible, gifted individuals that want to give a little back to their community,” he said.

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Warman volunteer firefighters say while the lingering trauma is one of the hardest aspects of the job, there are coping resources available.

Members debrief immediately, discuss tragic calls with colleagues and take up the counselling services offered.

“PTSD isn’t just for the full time day time guys. It happens right here at home too,” said Austin.

Gregory Baker, a volunteer firefighter, says despite the trauma, it’s a rewarding job.

“My father was a firefighter. I was always around the fire halls. And seeing how much he gave back to the community, I wanted to as well,” he said.

“We all deal with it in different ways. Myself, you try to separate yourself emotionally from whatever call you’re on. And just do what you’re trained to do,” said Jon Jackman, a volunteer firefighter.

All volunteer firefighters at the Warman fire rescue undergo extensive background checks, tests and training.

According to Austin, the department responded to 365 calls last year alone. He says the key to the job is forgetting the what ifs and focusing on the people in front of you.