Life in Balance

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May 1st is First Responders Day

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I’ve been a first responder since I was 17-years-old. After 42 years, I can say with certainty that I was destined to be one, just like my dad was. It’s in my blood. Like many who serve on the front lines, I’ve witnessed tragedy, heartbreak, helplessness and disbelief. I’ve been frustrated more often than I’d like to admit, and there are days that, like all of you, I’m left asking “why?” But with each bout of frustration comes a renewed sense of commitment to my life work. I remind myself and my team members that even though first responders can’t change the course of an event, our intervention helps things turn out for the better. All of our nation’s defenders, including firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and law enforcement, can find comfort in knowing that we protect America’s communities as best as we humanely can. And so, with National First Responders Appreciation Day on the horizon, I encourage you to pause and say “thank you” to those who, without fail, show up.

– Fire Chief, Black Forest Fire & Rescue (quote from

The following article “Is there enough mental health support for first responders?” outlines the issues faced by first responders and the struggle to receive adequate support.


There is hope, however, as communities and organizations come together to help.

Visit Invisible Wounds to share your stories and get support for PTSD:

Documentary to help first responders deal with trauma


Firefighter Mark Matheson and the Lethbridge fire department will be supporting the production of "The Other Side of the Hero," a documentary film on post-traumatic stress disorder among first responders. Herald photo by Ian Martens
Firefighter Mark Matheson and the Lethbridge fire department will be supporting the production of “The Other Side of the Hero,” a documentary film on post-traumatic stress disorder among first responders. Herald photo by Ian Martens


Because they protect life, they’re our “heroes.” But our first responders may also need help and protection. When they’re facing trauma and tragedy, men and women in our emergency services can become just as distraught as the families they’re serving. Sometimes that leads to suicide. That’s why Lethbridge firefighter/EMS personnel are taking on a fundraising project — and issuing a challenge. They’re raising $2,000 in support of a documentary film on the subject, and challenging three more Alberta communities to meet or beat their donation. “You don’t know when the trigger is going to hit,” explains Lethbridge paramedic/firefighter Mark Matheson. “You see tragic things sometimes. You never know.” Fundraising for the film, “The Other Side of the Hero” is ongoing and production should start in May, Matheson says. It’s being backed by the Ontario-based Tema Conter Memorial Trust. The organization is described as one of the leaders in providing mental health and peer support training to emergency services organizations. The film will “plunge into the world of the first responder,” organizers say. “We’ll witness the excitement and bravado as these real-life action heroes head out on a call. We’ll see the camaraderie and dark humour back at the station, as we get to know first responders as people rather than just the uniform that they wear. “And we’ll discover the flipside of what can happen when a hero discovers that they are not emotionally immune to all that happens in the course of a shift.” Already this year, it says, six Canadian first responders and two military personnel have died by suicide. In the last eight months of 2014, the toll was 27 first responders taking their own lives. To raise awareness, Matheson said, Lethbridge Fire/EMS members are challenging their counterparts in Red Deer, Strathcona County (Sherwood Park) and Fort McMurray. All three operate integrated services in much the same way as Lethbridge, he pointed out. Lethbridge and other communities offer post-traumatic stress disorder counselling and support to their first responders, Matheson points out. “It affects everyone,” he says. Traditionally, “You’re supposed to ‘buck it up,’ but sometimes it isn’t that easy.” Southern Albertans who want to support the awareness film project directly can donate online through the national website, TEMA.CA.

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