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PTSD program for B.C. firefighters, first responders facing funding crunch

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A PTSD resiliency program for first responders in B.C. is running out of money. Klaudia Van Emmerik has more about firefighting’s mental hardships and the province’s unique resiliency program to help first responders – Dec 19, 2019

It launched in 2017 and has helped dozens of firefighters struggling with job-related trauma and stress.

The B.C. First Responder Resiliency Program is a one-of-a kind initiative, unlike any other in Canada.

It’s also in dire need of more funding.

“No other provinces in Canada do this,” Coquitlam firefighter Steve Farina told Global News.

READ MORE: Kelowna fire department opens up about job-related PTSD

Farina helped start the program after two Surrey firefighters died by suicide just seven weeks apart in 2015. Both deaths were linked to psychological injuries suffered on the job.

“That kind of was a wake-up call for everybody,” Farina said. “For us, it hit so close to home, it was so impactful.”

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The four-day program takes place at Loon Lake in Maple Ridge, and involves clinicians specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and job-related mental health issues.

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Four firefighters injured in rollover near Haliburton – Dec 16, 2019

“I use this analogy of a backpack, and every call you go to is like putting a rock in your backpack,” Farina said.

“It can be little calls or when you have a child killed in a car accident, that is a big, large trauma and those things accumulate throughout your career and can just take you out.”

Winnipeg firefighter Lionel Crowther knows all about job-related trauma.

In 2007, he was called to what was a routine house fire, but the blaze claimed the lives of two of his firefighting colleagues.

Crowther narrowly escaped the flames.

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“I had to dive out of the window to get out of the second floor,” he told Global News.

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Barriers to PTSD treatment for volunteer firefighters – Oct 24, 2018

Crowther ended up being badly burned.

“I suffered 70 per cent burns to my body,” Crowther said. “Thirty per cent was third-degree and 20 per cent was full thickness third-degree.”

While Crowther eventually healed from the physical injuries, the emotional ones persisted for years.

“When I was at that peak state of feeling confident physically, that’s when the mental side really crept in,” he said.

Crowther was diagnosed with PTSD, but the resources and support he so badly needed just weren’t there.

“We didn’t have anything in place that was able to help,” he said.

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Volunteer firefighters fall through the cracks even as PTSD benefits expanded – Oct 22, 2018

It wasn’t until a decade later that Crowther discovered the brand new resiliency program that he says was life-changing.

“It’s amazing how even 10 years later, how three-and-a-half days changed our lives — not just mine, but my wife and kids,” Crowther said.

Since launching, the program has helped dozens of firefighters work through PTSD, including many from the Okanagan.

“It’s the type of program I believe that is critical to the fire service,” said Kelowna fire chief Travis Whiting.

“There is a lot of value in providing people the tools prior to it becoming an issue or becoming a problem and giving them the tools to manage what they are dealing with.”

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The resiliency program is funded through the B.C. Burn Fund and the UBC’s Men’s Initiative, but it’s running out of money, which is putting the program’s accessibility at risk.

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“We are struggling for funding, for sure, and come January, we will have to start charging for this program,” Farina said.

Many fear that could create barriers in people accessing the much-needed support.

Farina said about $250,000 is needed per year to run the program.

“That’s to run 10 programs, eight people through, a year,” Farina said.

An upcoming event in Kelowna hopes to give the program a bit of a financial boost. Former NHLer Theo Fleury will speak about his own issues with mental health at the Kelowna Community Theatre on January 11.

All of the proceeds from the event will go directly into the resiliency program. Tickets are $50.

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