Edmonton fire chief touts importance of mental health supports as US fire fighters mourn colleague

Edmonton fire chief touts importance of mental health supports as US fire fighters mourn colleague

07 September 2018

Published by http://www.fireandrescue.co/

CANADA – The death of a 29-year-old Edmonton fire fighter by suicide serves as a reminder that more work needs to be done to address mental health issues prevalent in emergency services, said Fire Chief Ken Block. “It’s a punch to the gut,” he said on Saturday, 1 September 2018. “Anytime you lose a member of the family … it’s very difficult.” Marc Renaud, who Block described as an exceptional young man, died off duty last Sunday, 26 August 2018. “Everyone who worked with him recognised him as a leader … he was the ultimate professional when it comes to knowing his profession as a fire fighter,” Block said. “He had a tremendous future in fire rescue, it’s so sad.” Renaud started work with the Edmonton Fire Rescue Service on 1 September 2011 and served at two of the city’s busiest fire halls. “Unfortunately he was suffering from depression,” Block said. He had sought professional help, he said, though he can’t confirm whether he received a diagnosis for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Renaud’s family is pursuing a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Board, he added. “Sadly suicide as a result of (PTSD) is all too common.” Block said all Edmonton fire fighters receive mental health training, including a program that teaches them how to recognise symptoms of PTSD in peers and a second program that focuses on self-assessment. There is also a task force in place to look for new mental health tools, Block said. “The culture within Edmonton fire has really shifted,” he said, adding progress is being made to reduce mental health risks. “There’s much work that needs to be done. We take this very seriously.”

There has been growing awareness about the need for suicide prevention for first responders. In 2014, Edmonton fire fighter Brad Symes, 38, died by suicide, which his family linked to work-related PTSD.

Fire fighters performed a “last alarm” ceremony on Saturday following a service at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Spruce Grove. Block explained the ceremony involves ringing a bell, hearkening back to more than 100 years ago when fire fighters would return to the fire house after completing a job. “Now we take that ceremony to signify that the fire fighter, in this case Marc Renaud … his service to the public has ended. Folks are going to leave here not feeling good about what happened but they’re going to leave here feeling that they contributed to Marc’s final service, and that’s important.”

An obituary said Renaud leaves behind his parents, a sister, a brother, grandmother and numerous aunts, uncles and friends. “He was surrounded by love and support,” Block said. He estimated close to 600 people, including police and firefighters from across Alberta and British Colombia, attended the ceremony.

Donations to the Edmonton Fire Fighters Burn Treatment Society are being collected in Renaud’s memory.

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