Hundreds of firefighters from the Edmonton area gathered Saturday at the funeral of one of their own, as the fire chief spoke openly about mental health and post traumatic stress disorder.
Marc Renaud, 29, died by suicide last weekend. Renaud, who was off-duty, had been with Edmonton Fire Rescue Services for approximately seven years.
LISTEN BELOW: Fire chief Ken Block speaks with 630 CHED’s Ryan Jespersen
In 2014, another firefighter in Edmonton died by suicide, according to the organization Heroes are Human.
“Marc was so highly thought of by everyone whose life he touched. Everyone who worked with him recognized him as a leader,” said Fire Chief Ken Block.
“He was always organizing things. He was the ultimate professional when it comes to knowing his trade.”
Block said Renaud had been suffering from depression.
“It’s a punch to the gut. Anytime you lose a member of the family — and our fire rescue services is very much a family — it’s very difficult,” he said.
“The week has been spent asking why? Asking what we could have done differently. Could we have recognized something differently?”
Block said there is no official record of a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder but said Renaud’s family notified the department they will be pursuing a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Board.
“The fire services, emergency services, are challenged with this incredible burden of post traumatic stress injury that, in many cases, is resulting from extreme exposure to some very difficult circumstances on the emergency ground.”
Paul Semeniuk, president of Mental Rescue Society, said showing support is key to helping someone in distress.
“A lot of people… don’t want to say the wrong thing. They don’t know what to say to show comfort or show empathy. A lot of people will just step back. I think it’s important that we step forward and show we are supportive,” he said.
“It’s not about what we say and how we say it; it’s just about showing up.”
The organization, which focuses its attention on first responders, builds awareness and campaigns for mental health in the Edmonton community.
Block said Edmonton Fire delivers two programs to firefighters, one that teaches the signs and symptoms of depression and another that assists with self-assessment.
“We take this very seriously. The City of Edmonton takes this very seriously. We continue to work toward a better program to build resilience within our firefighters. I’m confident that we’re doing everything we know to best address the dilemma we’re facing,” he said.
“Suicide as a result of post traumatic stress injury is all too common.”
Block said there has been a culture shift within the department in the last few years.
“Five years ago, we wouldn’t be standing here having this discussion quite frankly. Now as we stand here today, this subject is not taboo in the stations. Our crews, our firefighters, much more freely share where they are on that mental wellness continuum,” he said.
Semeniuk says the best thing someone can do if they notice someone who may be in distress is to ask them about it.
“In terms of mental health, I think it’s important we address things up front and quickly because over time, things can progress to more serious things. For us as support groups, just ask: how are you doing? What is it you want to talk about? Get into specifics if they want to. Really encourage them to seek treatments.”
The ceremony at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Spruce Grove included a Last Alarm ceremony, where a bell was rung thrice, three times.
“The significance of that if you go back to the horse-and-carriage days was that the firefighters were back in the house and their job was done,” Block said.
“Now we take that ceremony to signify the firefighter, in this case Marc Renaud’s job as a firefighter has concluded. His service to the public has ended.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues. Albertans can also dial 211 to speak with live operator.