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Langford Fire Rescue partners with Wounded Warriors to focus on mental health

Goldstream News Gazette - 1/17/2019

Langford Fire Rescue is taking steps to address the mental health of its members by partnering with Wounded Warriors Canada.

The department is the first in B.C. to formalize a partnership with the charity group that focuses on the mental health of veterans, first responders and their families.

"I believe the two greatest challenges that are going to affect firefighters over the next decade is cancer-related illness and mental health trauma," said Langford Fire Chief Chris Aubrey. "By establishing this partnership we are committed to providing Langford Fire Rescue members with as much access to support and resources so they can maintain their physical and mental well being."

Wounded Warriors Canada began work to expand to first responders in 2016. Partnership agreements like the one between Langford Fire Rescue and the organization started to form in March of last year, and since then over 30 partnerships have been formed nationally.

Scott Maxwell, executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada, said traditionally, organizations had their own templates to help their members. But he said no one service or organization can be the total solution for its people's mental health challenges.

"When people fall through the cracks and gaps exist, we know it can get very bad very quickly," Maxwell said. "When you get the chiefs and association leaders to step forward and say that it's OK to put your hand up, it's OK to access partnerships like what they have with Wounded Warriors Canada, we're seeing the results of that."

The partnership will educate members of Langford Fire Rescue about services that are available to them and aims to show them that they have a place to reach out to if needed.

One of the programs offered by the organization is called BOS — Before Operational Stress — which helps people identify symptoms of PTSD and learn how to address them. There is also a program called COPE — couples overcoming PTSD every day — that has treated at least 300 couples already. Both programs started in Victoria.

Jacqueline Zweng, the Victoria ambassador for Wounded Warriors Canada said she has seen the programs prove to be very successful and because they are research-based, and she's confident they're only going to get better.

"People are functioning at a much better level after the programming, couples have stronger relationships that are thriving," Zweng said. "Personally, I can just see the hope when you talk to somebody about what is available and they realize they're not alone."

Aubrey said he wants to do whatever he can to make sure his members have the resources they need so they don't become injured in the course of helping out their neighbours. He said he is encouraging other first responders to look at the resources available and ensure their members can access them.

"People realize there is an option and they can follow through with it," Zweng said. "To have a fire chief stand up and say this is important, now all of his members know they can say something too."