First re­spon­ders must be vig­i­lant of men­tal health is­sues

The Amherst News - - CUMBERLAND COUNTY - BY DAR­RELL COLE dar­rell.cole@amher­st­ Twit­ter: @ADN­dar­rell

Ev­ery day first re­spon­ders are running to­ward dan­ger when many oth­ers run away. The emo­tional and men­tal toll of be­ing there for oth­ers in cri­sis can some­times be too much for them to take.

Dur­ing the 15th Emer­gency Re­spon­ders Memorial Ser­vice in Amherst on Oct. 21, the com­mu­nity was re­minded of just how dif­fi­cult the job can be on the men­tal health of those who go into dan­ger as well as their fam­i­lies.

“Men­tal health is of­ten some­thing peo­ple don’t think about when it comes to the work po­lice of­fi­cers, fire­fight­ers and EHS do ev­ery day,” Amherst’s act­ing po­lice chief Dwayne Pike said fol­low­ing the cer­e­mony that saw fire, po­lice, EHS, cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers, le­gion and cadets march to Amherst First Baptist for a brief church ser­vice and then back to the fire depart­ment where sev­eral wreaths were laid. “It has to be a pri­or­ity. You can’t help oth­ers if you can’t help your­self. Our tool­kit has changed in that we now have re­sources to learn how to be more re­silient, how to bounce back and how to man­age stress­ful si­t­u­a­tions.”

Pike said it’s also im­por­tant to break down the bar­ri­ers as­so­ci­ated with men­tal health.

“We’re all hu­man and we should be able to step out and say I’m hav­ing trou­ble and need some help,” Pike said. “It’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that.”

Re­tired RCMP of­fi­cer Mike John­son, who is also Cum­ber­land County’s EMO co-or­di­na­tor, said the past few years have been dif­fi­cult ones for lo­cal first re­spon­ders in­clud­ing the Monc­ton RCMP shoot­ings of four years ago, the loss Const. Frank Desch­enes last Oc­to­ber in Mem­ram­cook, N.B. and the re­cent loss of two Fred­er­ic­ton po­lice of­fi­cers.

“We’re a first re­spon­der fam­ily and how for­tu­nate we are to be part of that first re­spon­der fam­ily and how for­tu­nate the com­mu­nity is to have that first re­spon­der fam­ily,” John­son said. “Re­gard­less of what hap­pens, when we fall, one of the other de­part­ments will bring us back.

We’re a big cir­cle, in­clud­ing po­lice, fire and EHS … the three of us to­gether com­plete that cir­cle and that some­times sees us stand­ing on the edge, de­fi­ant to that fall.”

First re­spon­ders have a tough job and see things no one should see, John­son said. It’s hard to pack­age it up and put it away.

“Some­times it’s later in life that at the most in­ap­pro­pri­ate mo­ment your mind will un­pack those things and bring them to the fore­ground. You’ll re­mem­ber how you took care of things, but didn’t care of your­self.”

For Greg Jones, chief of the Amherst Fire Depart­ment, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber all those who have served his depart­ment as well as those who con­tinue to serve.

“It gives us a chance to re­flect back on ev­ery day, but don’t say it enough,” Jones said. “The Amherst Fire Depart­ment was cre­ated in 1883, so this is the 135th an­niver­sary of a fire­fight­ing ser­vice in Amherst. When you think about how many peo­ple who have served in this depart­ment, pro­tect­ing the prop­erty and peo­ple in this com­mu­nity, it’s amaz­ing. There have been a lot of mem­bers who have gone through th­ese doors.”

Jones too said there’s a high emo­tional cost for fire­fight­ers. At a mo­ment’s no­tice, he said, his mem­bers can get a call to go out and deal with some very un­pleas­ant si­t­u­a­tions.

“We’ve de­voted our­selves and sac­ri­ficed our­selves to deal with things no mat­ter what,” the chief said. “It’s also im­por­tant for us as a depart­ment to be able to help our mem­bers re­spond to their men­tal health needs as they arise.”


Mem­bers of the Amherst Fire Depart­ment were joined by other emer­gency per­son­nel in par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 15th Emer­gency Re­spon­ders Memorial Ser­vice in Amherst on Oct. 21.

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