Fire chief develops county-wide PTSD prevention plan

by Olivia Rutt, The Wellington Advertiser

KENILWORTH, ONTARIO, CANADA – Wellington North Fire Chief Dave Guilbault has introduced a post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) prevention plan he says is part of a county-wide PTSD initiative.

In 2015, Guilbault was tasked with researching and delivering a PTSD prevention plan for firefighters by the Wellington County Fire Chiefs.

“The most important thing is we have to recognize when our firefighters witness horrific scenes, which we’ve had in Wellington North unfortunately over the years,” said Guilbault.

The plan, presented to Wellington North council on April 24, focuses on prevention, intervention and recovery.

Prevention includes training to recognize and assess the symptoms of PTSD and to outline the roles and responsibilities of firefighters, stated Guilbault in his report to council.

Intervention outlines actions to be taken for reporting PTSD.

Incident commanders shall notify the fire chief and the chaplain, escort the firefighter from the scene to the hospital or home and remain with the firefighter if he/she “experiences unusually strong emotional reactions, which have the potential to interfere with their ability at an event or later,” states the plan.

“Back in the day we used to go back to the station … we used to have some beer and talk about it. Well, obviously you can’t do that today,” said Guilbault.

“Our volunteer firefighters, they go back to the station, hang up their gear and go back to work … and they don’t get to talk about it,” he added.

“It’s so important that all our staff understand and recognize … when we have these incidents who’s suffering and that we can’t have them suffer in silence.”

The plan also states the fire chief shall keep communication lines open, deal with signs and symptoms as soon as possible, help the affected firefighter with accessing support and encourage openness.

The plan identifies ways to accommodate firefighters who are suffering from PTSD.

“Recovery and return to work is an important aspect of preventing further or future injury,” states Guilbault’s report.

The plan was well-received by councillors, who accepted it as information.

“I think this is really important. I’m glad we’re doing it,” Mayor Andy Lennox told Guilbault. “I’m glad we’re taking a lead role on it and thanks for your efforts you’ve put into it.”