Nothing brings out the good in humanity better than a crises. In my area on Monday and Tuesday we were battered by a fairly severe winter storm. We had trees come down all over town. Highways were closed surrounding us due to white out conditions. We lost power in town for a couple hours, and some rural areas were without power for approximately 60 hours. Between the 10-20cm of snow we received in those two days, and the wind blowing like crazy, to say that conditions were severe is a drastic understatement.
Our volunteer fire department was out in force to respond to this weather event. These individuals were out in some of the nastiest weather to hit our area in quite some time, responding in personal vehicles and on snowmobiles to get to stranded motorists caught in the storm. Some of them put in over 30hrs in 48. They went above and beyond, putting themselves at risk. They did it out of passion, and wanting to help their fellow man.
Our entire community of just under 1000 people came together to help. The stranded motorists that the volunteer fire department rescued filled up both of our hotels, extra rooms in the old folks lodge and hospital, and spare rooms in peoples homes. The spirit that brought everyone together was amazing to see. My wife and I actually had a gentleman stay with us overnight as he had rolled his big rig in the nasty weather, and his safety people from his company were unable to come to town to get him until the next day.
Confession time. I miss working in emergency services. I wish I could have been out there with the crews, helping in any way I could. However, I walked away from that life 4 years ago. I know it was the right choice.However it definitely wasn’t the easy choice. I miss being on the frontline. I miss being in a position to help others. I felt like a failure when I walked out of the ambulance hall for the last time all those years ago. I felt like a failure because I felt like I could hack it. What I have slowly been starting to realize is that my time on the frontline is over, but my ability to help others is not defined by such a narrow view. I can continue to help others.
I can help others by bringing my story to light. I can be a beacon of hope to others who have been struggling through the same issues I have struggled with. I can let the world know how stressful and dangerous a job frontline personal actually have. I can educate, let people know that the fire and EMS services people see on television may be based on reality, but is far from the truth. Working fire or EMS full-time is a challenging job. Volunteering in rural communities can be even more so, as many fire members also work full-time jobs elsewhere, but are ready and able to drop what they are doing to answer the fire call, in addition to the hours of monthly fire training that is done so these people know what to do when they respond. Dealing with the carnage that can be seen on these calls that can trigger PTSD is another monster altogether.
According to statistics put together by the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, a group dedicated to helping end the stigma of PTSD in emergency services, 46 frontline service personal have completed suicide so far this year. That number is across all services, Canada wide. And I strongly suspect that the number is actually to the low end of the spectrum.
Our first responders do a lot to keep the rest of us safe, so next time you see these men and women in your community, before you complain about them disrupting your sleep when they have the siren blaring at 3am while responding to a call, thank them. Thank them for the sleepless nights they spend responding to scenes that no one should have to witness. Thank them that they stand ready to help anyone and everyone should the need arise. And say a prayer of thanks that while you are having your sleep disrupted, you are warm and safe, unlike the people that these brave souls are responding to, where they may have to make life or death decisions once they get on scene.
Members of the Berwick & District Volunteer Fire Department in Nova Scotia stand proudly by date unknown. photo from http://www.firefightingincanada.com