Fire chiefs met with senior government officials and MPs during a two-day lobbying effort on Parliament Hill, including Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan (centre). Campbell River’s fire chief, Thomas Doherty, is at right. Photo courtesy Thomas Doherty

Fire chiefs met with senior government officials and MPs during a two-day lobbying effort on Parliament Hill, including Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan (centre). Campbell River’s fire chief, Thomas Doherty, is at right. Photo courtesy Thomas Doherty

Vancouver Island fire chief pleads with Ottawa for traumatic stress support

Campbell River fire chief Thomas Doherty presented concerns to federal government

Campbell River’s fire chief says the federal government should provide better mental health support for firefighters and other first responders who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He took that message to Ottawa as part of a delegation of fire chiefs that met with MPs and government officials in the capital last month. One of their key demands was help for first responders whose traumatic experiences frequently drive them to suicide, Doherty said in an interview with the Mirror.

At one point, a group of 16 chiefs sat down to discuss mental illness, and they counted the number of suicides among firefighters from the past year alone that they knew of.

“We came up with 15 suicides this year that we were aware of,” Doherty said. “And that doesn’t include any of the ones that attempted and survived the ordeal.”

Doherty, who represented B.C. fire chiefs during the meetings, said the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) wants to make sure that people at the front lines get access to mental health support.

The CAFC said in a document prepared for MPs that the federal government has recognized that mental health is an issue for first responders. But while longer-term efforts are being put into place, interim measures are needed immediately, the group said. That includes resilience training that is already available to federal employees – but not to firefighters.

The fire chiefs also pressed for a $50-million safety innovation fund that Doherty said would help fire departments to prepare for changes in policy that affect their work, such as a revision in the provincial building code that allows for six-storey wood-frame structures.

“These new codes came into effect, and there’s been no research done on it from a fire perspective,” Doherty said, adding that fire chiefs are also looking to have more influence on policy-making before changes come into effect.

READ MORE: Man charged after B.C house fire triggers high-grade explosives

READ MORE: Rash of fires in Campbell River’s south end prompts fire safety reminder

Other major demands put forward by the CAFC included clarifying procedures for cross-border deployments of heavy urban search and rescue teams.

Those teams of professional first responders – notably one based in Vancouver – are hampered from responding to large-scale emergencies across provincial or international borders by certain regulations, such as a requirement that nurses be licensed in the province where they operate, Doherty said.

The CAFC also wants the federal government to reinstate a program that used to help fire departments purchase equipment. Doherty said the program was dissolved for lack of use, and that it involved a process that he described as cumbersome.

Small rural volunteer fire departments in particular need help in paying for equipment, he said. Tools for decontaminating firefighting gear is especially important, he said, citing high rates of cancer among firefighters.

A fifth demand put forward by the CAFC is an advisory secretariat that would serve as the interface between fire departments across the country and the various agencies of government that need their support, he said.

Doherty met with a number of elected officials and senior government figures during the Ottawa visit, including North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney and Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan, among others.

Campbell River’s fire chief, who is also a director with Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC representing Vancouver Island, said the delegation was well-received, although it didn’t manage to extract firm commitments from the federal government.

The lobbying initiative, called Fire Chiefs on the Hill, brought 25 fire chiefs from across the country to the capital, where they held some 80 meetings on Nov. 26-27, Doherty said.


@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The IIO’s chief civilian director has cleared Victoria police of any wrongdoing in the Nov. 21 death of a man they had earlier arrested. (Black Press Media file photo)
Investigation clears Victoria police of wrongdoing in arrested man’s death

Police watchdog determined police action or inaction played no role in man’s death

A West Shore man has been handed two tickets for failing to wear a mask after verbally abusing staff at a coffee shop in View Royal and gas station in Langford. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Man ticketed twice for refusing to wear mask in same day, say West Shore RCMP

Police ask businesses to report incidences when they occur

Island Health has reported a COVID-19 outbreak at Saanich Peninsula Hospital. (Black Press Media file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak hits first Greater Victoria hospital

Island Health declares outbreak at Saanich Peninsula Hospital

On Nov. 23, Saanich council voted unanimously in favour of sending a letter encouraging the federal government to pass a bill to declare Sept. 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich calls for national day of reconciliation honouring residential school survivors

Sept. 30 statutory holiday would recognize harm residential schools caused, mayor says

12-year-old Ella Smiley captured some video of orcas on a sea lion hunt on Nov. 28 at Kitty Coleman Park, just north of Courtenay. Photo by Ella Smiley
VIDEO: Orcas hunt sea lion near Vancouver Island shoreline

Twelve-year-old Ella Smiley, of Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings, caught up with a… Continue reading

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy are inviting audiences into their home for ‘A Celtic Family Christmas’. (Submitted)
Natalie MacMaster coming to you through Cowichan Performing Arts Centre

Here’s your chance to enjoy the famed fiddler in an online show with her husband Donnell Leahy.

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

(Needpix.com)
Fraudsters projected to use pet scams to gouge over $3M from customers: BBB

The pandemic heavily contributed to the number of puppy scams

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Most Read