Chaplain aims to help post-trauma

·2 min read

SOUTHWEST MIDDLESEX - When it comes to heroes, not all wear capes. Many wear reflective safety attire, helmets, and boots.

Like superheroes, volunteer firefighters don’t do it for the money, the fame, or glory; they do it for their communities. Unlike superheroes, they share the same human weaknesses as the rest of us. Their duties can scathe them, even if it’s not always visible.

The career is often found on lists of professions ripe with trauma. Recent studies have found that anywhere between 7% and 37% of firefighters meet the criteria for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The volunteer department in Southwest Middlesex is taking preventative steps.

“It’s realizing that the ‘here, have a beer,’ approach doesn’t always work,” says Reverend Michael Burns of the Burns Mosa Presbyterian Church. Since 2018, he has volunteered his services as Chaplain at the Southwest Middlesex fire department.

The SWM fire department employs Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), a peer programme through which firefighters meet

Chaplain aims to help post-trauma on-scene after an incident is under control, and again within 24-48 hours of major incidents for debriefing. The crew sits down to connect the dots, clearing up any uncertainties and “what if” questions that could carry on haunting them.

The Chaplain and three additional firefighters are trained in CISM, with a fourth going for training in the future. The County has a CISM team as well, who can provide external support for major events.

“I’ve seen guys get morose over time,” says Bob Hansen, former SWM fire chief. Hansen’s father was a firefighter in Sarnia, and he grew up around the culture. For a long time it was, “suck it up, buttercup.” Now, he says, attitudes are changing.

A metaphor for post-traumatic stress can be found in a bucket of water. Every call a firefighter goes to adds a volume of water to the bucket. Sometimes it’s just a few drops, and other times a lot more. When that bucket overflows, that’s the post-traumatic stress. Rev. Burns says his goal is that no firefighter ends up with an overflowing bucket.

McKinley Leonard-Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Middlesex Banner