(Photo: Tara Kirkpatrick)

Champlain Township introduces PTSD policy

The Township of Champlain has adopted a PTSD plan for its firefighters.

The province says working as a first-responder doubles your risk of developing PTSD. The Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act, passed in 2016, requires certain employers to have a PTSD prevention plan in place before April 23, 2017. The act also recognizes PTSD as a work-related illness affecting first responders, meaning firefighters suffering from PTSD won’t have to prove a link between work and the condition in order to receive Workplace Safety and Insurance Act benefits.

Trauma for local firefighters could be cumulative, or it could stem from a particularly difficult incident involving injury or death, for example, said Champlain Township CAO Paula Knudsen. “We’re in a small community, so the chances our firefighters run into a friend or a family member, as happened recently, are increased,” she said.

The plan, presented at Champlain Township’s latest council meeting, is described as a “holistic approach to prevention, intervention, recovery and return to work.”

The document details different kinds of symptoms of PTSD: intrusive memories, avoidance, and hyper-arousal symptoms. It says Champlain Township has a goal of increasing awareness about mental health issues and creating “open dialogue between employees, managers, council.”

“Anyone found stigmatizing another individual may be subject to disciplinary action,” says the plan. “Stigmatizing” could include “prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behaviour,” or belittling, patronizing or insulting people who are suffering from PTSD. Council and senior management would be responsible for deciding whether or not allegations are substantiated and what should be done.

Champlain Township will also provide training and education about PTSD, which will be funded from an existing budget, said Knudsen.

The plan says managers and supervisors should know how to recognize the signs of PTSD in fellow employees, and then communicate with that person, asking how they can help and provide information about the resources available.