Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Nathan Phillips suffers from PTSD.
Alberta first responder first on scene at Columbia Ice Fields Bus crash walks across Canada for PTSD awareness
Chad Kennedy, a former Alberta sheriff highway patrol officer from Calgary, is walking across Canada in an effort to spread awareness about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Kennedy was diagnosed with PTSD in 2018 and in 2020 it was further exacerbated when he was one of the first responders at the Columbia Ice Fields Bus crash. The crash took three lives and critically injured 14 others when a big-wheeled ice explorer went down a rocky path and landed on its roof.
“Within two weeks of dealing with that trauma I was in such a dark place, I was unable to talk to anybody about what was going on in my head,” he said.
Now he’s on an eight-month journey walking from Cranbrook in B.C. to Saint Johns in Newfoundland. This week he passed through Regina and said that he is very emotional also, as this is where his dad kicked off his career with RCMP in 1968.
To walk on those same grounds, he said, is just incredible.
“I could’ve never imagined our walk across Canada raising awareness for PTSD would actually gain this much attention, you feel like you’re alone but you’re proven otherwise,” he said.
He said that he wad not expecting this level of support and it was a pleasant surprise to see all levels of emergency services show up, including RCMP, RCMP pipes and drums band, fire officers, nurses, corrections officers, doctors, veterans, EMS and others. “So far Regina owns the biggest turnout and support.”
Recalling the time after the crash ,Kennedy said he was in his backyard one night with “that (alcohol) bottle” and he couldn’t figure out what was going on with him. He said that he had an idea but didn’t know how to put it into words.
“It was at that moment, genuinely my darkest moment, that I said it’s time to do something about PTSD and not just PTSD and me,” he said, “and I decided to walk the country. We developed a great team from across the country that has logistically put everything together.”
It was not until six months after the ice fields crash that he finally got the courage to ask for help again, for the third time ever. This January he got the right help he needed.
He said that the resources are out there, but they may be hard to access. In order to have those resources kicked in, he said, we need to ask for help.
Nathan Phillips, a former volunteer firefighter, attended the walk and he had his own reasons to be part of the campaign. Philips was one of the first responders at the 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
After the incident he realized there is still stigma around mental health among first responders.
“I ended up developing a disorder in the past four years and had some difficulties having claims accepted and getting the psychological help that I need so I really value the awareness that Chad is bringing with this walk across Canada,” he said.
“When I heard about it I said that’s something I need to get on for my own healing.”
Phillips joined the Sea-to-Sea walk in Saskatchewan and will be with them until they get to the Manitoba border. He said that he feels great to be part of the team, learning about himself and others while encouraging people to be the best versions of themselves.
“Goal of the campaign is to get the right people listening and develop a proactive program that we can go through before we’re given our first pair of boots or uniform and give us the tools to deal with the stress that all emergency services go through,” Kennedy said.
In Regina, Kennedy and his team hit the 1,000-km mark but he said it’s not about the distance, it’s about the awareness. They are hoping to reach N.L. by the first week of October. They walk for about seven and a half hours a day, starting at eight in the morning and getting back to camp by four, Monday to Friday.
He added that he’s heard from mothers and wives of individuals who died by suicide due to PTSD and that’s what keeps him going, those emotions. “I met a couple a few minutes ago who lost a loved one to PTSD by suicide, all they’re asking is that we make a change and be a part of change.”
Kennedy said that the burden he carries is emotional and it’s a struggle everyday. The blisters and the physical aspect of walking don’t matter, it’s the emotional challenge he faces.
Insp. Kimberley Pasloske, acting training officer for Depot Division, was also a part of the walk in Regina. She said that things have been changing in the last few years in the force.
“Let’s be honest, some of the stuff we deal with regularly is outside of human norm, outside of possibilities of understanding,” Pasloke said. “It’s OK to not be OK, narrative is changing.”
Pasloske added that it’s important for the training academy to start at the ground level and know that mental health is a concern and to support and encourage open dialogue about it.