Bernie Van Tighem hopes to start a support network for first responders suffering from PTSD in the Elk Valley.

Trauma support for first responders coming to the Elk Valley

Elkford local and Fire Chief, Bernie Van Tighem, is part of an emergency responder group who are raising concerns about PTSD.

Elkford local and Fire Chief, Bernie Van Tighem, is part of an emergency responder group who are raising concerns and awareness for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and non-diagnosed trauma that first responders deal with regularly.

“There is a group of us first responders across Canada, there was a call that went out for people to help with this a few months back,” said Van Tighem. “I am in Elkford, I’m the Fire Chief but I’ve been off for almost a year now with PTSD and depression myself.”

While Van Tighem is a fire fighter, the movement is for all first responder services throughout Canada.

“It was lead by a paramedic from the Peel region in Ontario. We have been working on this for a few months, a bunch of paramedics, police, fire, dispatch and some nurses. Basically the idea is peer driven support, like peer meetings, where we develop a model that is currently being used by police services,” said Van Tighem.

The peer support and meetings is not intended for only diagnosed PTSD responders.

“There does not need to be any diagnoses or mental health injury. We get together on a regular basis and go through a process that helps,” said Van Tighem. “I think that one of the best pieces of medicine is to open up with peers – finding out that others have the same difficulties and knowing that you are not alone.”

When Van Tighem came out with his PTSD and depression, he shocked some of his colleagues. He was a pillar in the first responder community and was combating his depression for over 30 years. While it may shock some people, many fellow workers in the first responder industry retire early due to trauma.

“It floored a lot of people when I went off sick. I was hiding it so well for years I think there needs to be more knowledge out there and that it is impacting real people,” said Van Tighem. “One thing you will find out about ambulance services is that retired usually means burnt out and destroyed. The have left because they can no longer handle it.”

He intends to create a monthly meeting where fellow first responders can come and share stories. According to Van Tighem, there are numerous first responders in the area that could potentially benefit from the program. Participants can come once or come monthly, whatever they need.

“There are probably 150 plus firefighters, 60 or 70 paramedics and EMR’s, I have no idea on cops, maybe 30 or 40 in the Elk Valley, I think there will be people that need this,” said Van Tighem. “Someone can walk into a meeting and sit down and dump all their feelings out there. Then they leave with their shoulders lightened and never come back. Then there will also be people that will come every month. The idea is to have a group that may only have 15 people but it rotates through helping everyone that needs it.”

The program that is being implemented is based on the framework of a similar police program intended to deal with job related stress and anxiety. The group’s champions are still reworking the police program to include all first responders.

“We are just kicking this off. Our group has run the meetings. We get together on Skype and we run through a meeting and adjust as we go. What we are doing is based on Robins Blue Circle, which was created by a police officer in Ontario. The model we follow is similar and has been used for a few years now.”

The program is gaining public backing and continues to raise awareness for first responders with and without diagnosed PTSD. The first Wings of Change Peer Support Model  meeting in B.C. will be held at the Sparwood Firehall at 7 p.m. on Feb, 12th.


Just Posted

Fires highlight need for more volunteers

Short-staffed volunteer fire departments in Elk Valley, South Country rely on mutual aid

Motorcyclist grateful to be alive, thanks fellow drivers

Over a dozen people stopped to assist Lori Hann after she tumbled off her bike on Hwy 3, Saturday

Local athletes ready for BC Summer Games

Twenty-four athletes from the Elk Valley and South Country will compete at the 2018 BC Summer Games.

GearHub staff staying positive after fire

Sporting goods store to fully reopen by end of July

UPDATE: New lead narrows the search for Serval cat

UPDATE, July 17: A new lead has narrowed the search for Aquila… Continue reading

BC Games: Day 1 comes to an end

Medals have already been handed out following one day of competition in the 2018 BC Summer Games

The Free Press editor wins awards

Editor Phil McLachlan has been recognized at the 2018 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards.

BC Wildfire update on Okanagan blazes

Watch the media briefing on the current fire situation in the Okanagan.

RCMP help to save goats from wildfire

The fast-approaching wildfire, sparked Thursday, forced the evacuation of five homes

VIDEO: Near drowning captured on popular B.C. river

Search and Rescue manager says the popular pastime of floating in the summer is inherently dangerous

Crosswalk vandalism leaves black mark for Cowichan as B.C. Games begin

Rainbow crosswalk defaced just days after being painted

Photo gallery: BC Games Day 1

A brief look at action from the 2018 BC Summer Games in the Cowichan Valley

UPDATED: Anti-pipeline campers digging in as eviction deadline expires

The City of Burnaby had ordered the Kinder Morgan pipeline protesters out for violating bylaws

Trump was taped talking of paying Playboy model: AP source

Source says former personal lawyer Michael Cohen secretly recorded discussion prior to 2016 election

Most Read