PTSD in BC’s First Responders – Let’s do the Right Thing and Look After Them
I think most Canadians would be surprised by the care a suffering firefighter receives when he or she has to leave work due to a debilitating post-traumatic stress injury. Or 20. If you’ve ever wondered how they stand the horror of burnt body parts, it turns out that they don’t. And when these wounds are left untreated and they can’t go to work anymore, a firefighter in BC begins a new harrowing journey – trying to get help from WorksafeBC. Some of them don’t survive that journey.
Costs More Important than Lives When it Comes to PTSD Treatment Options
First, it’s the shock of realizing that Worksafe is not really expecting you or really sure what PTSD is or how it should be treated. A number of firefighters describe the humiliation of having to prove they have PTSD from their work and not something else. You don’t realize it until you’re injured that WorksafeBC is more than a government-mandated social program, it’s an insurance company. Insurance companies keep costs down by limiting claims and payments on claims. In BC, being a firefighter does not entitle you to anything special. You’re waitlist for care runs the gamut from a few months to years.
Prove You’re not Faking it PTSD as You Search for Treatment Options
In many Canadian provinces, the government has recognized the risk of trauma on its first responders and smoothed the way into care. They prioritized helping the helpers. This meant adding a “presumptive clause” to their workers compensation acts/laws that says a first responder is assumed to have gotten PTSD in the course of their work. In BC, first responders are still waiting for this change. We think it’s coming soon. But until the new NDP government makes good on its promise to add that clause in BC, all first responders will be forced to go through an obstacle course of meetings, waitlists, upsetting interviews, disorganized case management, incomplete information, waiting and assessments. It’s a bag full of letdown.
First Responders are Taken for Granted Yet PTSD Affects Them
I didn’t know that firefighters have no obvious path for care when they are overcome with nightmares and terrors, helplessly frozen to the spot, or experiencing any of the myriad of PTSD symptoms. Now that I do, I can’t stop trying to figure out how to help. We need our firefighters! If I call 911, they are always first to show up. You don’t have to have much interaction with a firefighter to realize how grateful you are they exist. If we’ve had a medical emergency or an accident we usually remember some interaction with a firefighter that reassured us. I have a cousin who works in Coquitlam as a firefighter. I’ve never asked him about his work or showed my respect for his willingness to face what I think is one of hardest jobs out there. I’ve been remiss in not doing so. If you know of someone suffering from PTSD, work with them to reach out and explore their treatment options. Even though they are far from perfect, the reality is that there may be no time to waste.