Lac La Hache’s fire chief hopes a mental health conference for first responders in Richmond, taking place Jan. 31 and Feb.1, will raise awareness.
“I’m hoping there will be more awareness on first responders’ mental health. It’s been a long time coming,” said Terry Murphy, one of 16 people on the B.C. First Responders’ Mental Health Committee steering committee organizing the conference. “We don’t get paged out for a happy situation. We get paged because somebody is having the worst day of their life.”
Calls range from rescues to fatalities and can require different coping mechanisms, he added.
“Some people are stronger than others and there are a lot of resources out there to help. In Lac La Hache we usually bring in counsellors to debrief for the mental aspects if it’s been a more serious event.”
Murphy has been the president of the Volunteer Firefighters Association of B.C. for the last year and was the vice-president before that.
“Roughly 70 per cent of firefighters in B.C. are volunteers,” he said, noting he has been chief of the Lac La Hache Volunteer Fire Dept. for eight years.
Murphy said they are testing the waters with this first-ever conference and planning to host more conferences in the future.
“We want to move it around so it’s not always focused in Vancouver. We might look as a committee putting one on in Kamloops and then maybe up in Prince George or further north.”
Trudi Rondou, WorkSafeBC senior manager, industry and labour services, chairs the B.C. First Responders’ Mental Health Committee.
The committee is comprised of firefighters, police, paramedics, dispatchers, paid and volunteers.
“Terry is a fantastic resource for us and a great advocate,” she said of Murphy’s role on the committee.
The conference sold out, she added.
“We have 350 people attending, 50 speakers and sponsors and a waiting list of 100 people.”
Delegates are coming from all over B.C., across Canada and a few people from Florida.
“It’s been such a great response. I think it’s the right time for people to be talking about this issue.”
In early 2018, the committee determined to host the conference, and have been working on it ever since.
Rondou said she hopes people leave with practical tools and knowledge so they can go back home and do things differently.
“We are trying to break down the stigma so people feel comfortable talking about mental health and understanding the first step is you have to talk about it in order to get help.”
Stephanie Masun, Cariboo Regional District manager of protective services said she is looking forward to attending the conference on behalf of the region.
“It is such an important topic and I want to make sure we have the tools at the regional district to support our first responders in the critical and challenging work they do,” Masun said. “I’m hoping to bring back some new knowledge and resources that I can share with our CRD volunteer fire and search and rescue departments, but also with our partner agencies who respond to crises and emergencies.”