In times of emergencies, communities across the country rely on volunteer firefighters. Doug Pynch first started volunteering in 1991 when he was just 19 years old.
“We range from medical calls to house fires to motor vehicle accidents,” he said. “Every one is different, you never know what you’re going to see.”
And some of the things that volunteer firefighters see cannot be unseen.
“I can remember the first call I ever went to. It was a fatality. First two were fatalities,” recalled Pynch.
He said at the time, post-traumatic stress disorder was not something many thought about, and talking about what they saw on the job was not something that was done. Now, talking about tough days is encouraged in many departments.
Pynch is now diagnosed with PTSD and is receiving help. He said there was one night that changed everything for him and he knew he couldn’t ignore what happened.
“It was a house fire,” said Pynch. “It ended up being a coworker’s house and he was trapped inside. He ended up dying and I had to go in and find his body.”
Since that day Pynch has not been able to work. He said luckily he was covered through his own private insurance but he knows many who do not have that luxury.
PTSD is something that affects many first responders across the country. This week the Nova Scotia government announced steps to make it easier for first responders to get access to resources for PTSD through WCB by eliminating the need to prove the got PTSD on the job.
“This is really going to speed up the process for them,” said Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis.
“It will put the tools in place to help start their recovery a lot sooner for PTSD.”
But the new regulations only apply to those covered by WCB, and many volunteer fire departments are not. The coverage is not something that is required by the province and only 34 of the 269 volunteer fire departments are covered by WCB.
Kousoulis said coverage is the prerogative of the municipality.
“What most municipalities do is mirror WCB coverage,” said Kousoulis. HRM is one of those municipalities, but West Hants, where Pynch worked, is not. Pynch said there is no similar coverage and nothing to help volunteers who have PTSD.
“It’s the smaller community departments that can’t afford it,” he said.
“They just don’t have the funding to put into place. To me the government should make it so the smaller departments can afford it.”
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Kousoulis said the province cannot mandate what insurance covers, but admits that some provinces do mandate certain industries require WCB.
“I would look at the evidence if it would make a difference for all Nova Scotians,” said Kousoulis. “I think the more people who are covered under WCB because the pool would get larger, it means WCB becomes much more efficient.”
Ultimately Pynch said he would like to see municipal governments work with the province to put more resources towards helping people with PTSD, because he says too many are not getting the help they need.