Officials continue work at the scene of a devastating fatal fire in Pubnico Head, N.S. that left four children dead.
It’s one of the worst fires many first responders have ever had to deal with.
“This is something that is out of the norm. Firefighers, paramedics and police officers are going to be there for days sifting through the rubble,” said Kevin Davison.
“It’s very stressful. It’s something that’s never going to leave a lot of these, a lot of these people.”
Davison is a paramedic and volunteer firefighter in Kentville, N.S. He made headlines across the country last year when he released his song When Those Sirens Are Gone, which details the challenges many first responders face on the job.
He says those on the front lines need to deal with tragic situations all the time but that it becomes even more challenging with children are involved.
“It’s certainly something that is heart wrenching,” said Davison.
“A lot of us are parents, you know, fathers, mothers and to have to deal with that. It’s extremely difficult and I know they are going through a lot of stuff down there.”
WATCH: ‘Everybody’s hearts just tore out of their chest’: investigation into fatal Pubnico Head fire continues
Mental health is as important as physical health
Dr. Howard Conter is a physician in Halifax and also a member of the TEMA Conter Memorial Trust, an organization that supports first responders.
He says mental health is just as important as physical health and is encouraging people to talk.
“I can only imagine how horrible that call had to be, to find children who have passed away, especially members of the community you knew,” said Conter.
“You need to have, be taken through a debriefing process, a grieving process has to initiated. It’s not good enough like the old days, where it’s suck it up, go home you know, have a beer, do what you have to do. We have to take care of people’s mental health.”
‘Trauma affects everybody differently’
Officials with other organizations say their hearts go out to those working the tragic scene.
“Unfortunately, trauma affects everybody differently so there is no set answer on how it’s going to affect each individual person, everybody deals with it in a different way and it affects people in different ways,” said Inspector Reid McCoombs, Halifax Regional Police.
Police, EHS and fire officials all say they have supports in place and are encouraging first responders to use them, especially following an incident like the one in Pubnico Head.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that it does take a toll on them,” said Kelly Sullivan, NS RCMP Employee and Management Relations Officer.
“We don’t really know how PTSD evolves so we don’t know how cumulative it is and every single person is different. The most important piece about events like this is to talk about them,” said Sullivan.
“We have high days and we have low days and the most important piece is to understand what you’re feeling and when you’re feeling it and then to also work towards coping strategies to make yourself better.”
Davison says first repsonders are ordinary people who also need help themselves sometimes.
“It’s never weak to speak,” said Davison.
“It’s the strongest thing you’ll ever do is to reach out and actually ask somebody to give you a hand because sometimes these things just never leave.”
WATCH: ‘Devastating’ house fire in Pubnico, N.S., leaves four children dead
Free grief counselling available
Nova Wellness Centre is offering grief counselling at no charge to both family members of those impacted by the fatal fire and first responders.
Joan and Michael Donaldson are both counsellers with decades of experience.
The pair who now live in Nova Scotia but worked with emergency personnel during the Fort McMurry wildfires.
“For some reason I think when there’s children involved it touches us all in a place that is deeper, more painful,” Joan Donaldson said about the tragic events in Pubnico Head.
Those looking to access services from Nova Wellness are asked to contact 902-774-1948 or 902-229-8924. You can also learn more about their services by visiting their Facebook page.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911. 911 can send immediate help. For a list of available mental health programs and services around Canada, please refer to the list here.