Alberta sheriff first on scene at Columbia Icefield bus crash walks across Canada for PTSD awareness

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WATCH: An Alberta Sheriff highway patrol officer from Calgary is about to start an eight-month journey walking across Canada. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, he suffered a post-traumatic stress injury on the job and wants to make sure other first responders get the help they need. – Mar 29, 2022

An Alberta sheriff highway patrol officer from Calgary is about to start an eight-month journey walking across Canada raising awareness about post-traumatic stress.

Chad Kennedy, 49, started his highway patrol career in northern Alberta.

“Highway 63. We called it back then ‘the highway of death.’ Quite honestly, it felt like we were always attending a serious injury or fatality,” Kennedy recalled.

Read more: Alberta woman helps families of first responders dealing with trauma

Three and a half years of responding to horrific crashes left Kennedy scared. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2018.

In July 2020, Kennedy was one of the first people on scene at the bus rollover at the Columbia Icefield. Three people were killed and 14 others suffered life-threatening injuries.

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Read more: No answers 1 year after Columbia Icefield tour bus crash in Jasper National Park

“You’re attending a mass casualty event with numerous people horribly injured with little first aid kits,” Kennedy said.

“Helplessness. There was nothing you can do medically for these folks. At the end of the day, you’re trying to make people as comfortable as they can be with those serious injuries by bringing them blankets and water.”

Not being equipped to help the injured bus crash victims was devastating for Kennedy.

“You bottle all that horrible stuff up inside. You don’t have the outlet and you don’t want to bring those horrible stories to your loved ones,” Kennedy said.

“We are afraid to ask for help. We are the helpers. I am living proof. The hardest step I had to take was to ask for help.”

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First responders cope with heartache following Humboldt Broncos bus crash – Apr 4, 2019

Kennedy did end up getting help. Now he’s out to help others do the same.

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On April 2, Kennedy will start an eight-month journey walking across Canada called “Sea to Sea for PTSD.”

The vice president of the Alberta Union of Public Employees says it’s not just first responders facing post-traumatic stress. Bonnie Gostola said health-care workers and social workers have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, although she said there are no statistics that track the number who have PTSD.

“Our members are used to seeing death in long-term care facilities, but just the sheer volume — it’s been hard and crippling on them emotionally,” Gostola said.

“We really need to start tracking this and we really need to start putting the attention back on the causes of PTSD and the supports in place to help individuals navigate that. Mental health is an occupational health and safety issue and we need to push our employers to also recognize that. Some are very good at it and others not so much,” said Gostola.

She commends Kennedy’s efforts to put a face on PTSD.

Read more: New Calgary mental health clinic aims to fill gap in public system

Kennedy said the hardest step for him was to ask for help.

“Nobody wants to be called weak or told to suck it up. Underneath our uniforms we are human beings and not designed to see the kind of stuff we see,” Kennedy said.

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His next steps will be speaking to emergency services workers and employers across the country to find ways to be proactive with mental health.

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