Nova Scotia firefighter says cancer, mental health remain ‘big battle’ for crews – Halifax

Firefighters in Nova Scotia say they revolve around cancer and mental health, beyond fires, which large combatants are currently facing.

Firefighters and politicians sat down in Halifax on Tuesday to discuss what help is needed at the Standing Committee on Human Resources.

Michael Sears said challenges remain when it comes to mental health. A Nova Scotia representative for the Atlantic Provinces Professional Firefighters Association shared his own experience with his assistance.

“I was the first person in Halifax to complain of work stress, post-traumatic stress,” he told the commission.

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Sears, who is also a member of the Halifax Professional Firefighters Association, explained that it took him five months to go through the process and figure out how to remove obstacles for others.

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“It’s funny to say it was the scariest thing ever,” he recalled. “Getting into a burning building was no big deal, it was about taking care of yourself and dealing with the effects of 20 years of firefighting. There’s a lot to evolve there. There’s room to go. We have a lot.”

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The president of the Nova Scotia Fire Association also spoke at the conference. Greg Jones and Sears agree that a proactive rather than a reactive approach is needed when it comes to managing mental health in their field.

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Responsive services include visits to a psychologist, or day and inpatient treatment programs. Proactive helps connect staff to support from day one.

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“That’s what the members are starting with,” Sears said. By explaining what firefighting stressors can bring and do to members, and educating them on what to do when it happens, You can build a solid foundation. ”

The biggest obstacle, he says, is finding funding to fund these programs. He added that the stigma around mental health remains, along with the cultural shift required in recognizing when firefighters need support.

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Sears and Jones praised their expanded presumptive cancer insurance and said Nova Scotia tops the list when it comes to services.

A year ago, the state added 13 types of cancer to firefighter workplace injury insurance. As a result, the presumed targets covered by the Industrial Accident Compensation Act have been expanded to 19 cancers.

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However, they agreed there was room to expand its coverage as the science of cancer and their profession continued to evolve.

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Another issue is cancer prevention.

Jones said firefighters find it difficult to anticipate a diagnosis because access to treatment is difficult.

“One[request]we have is to have a pre-screening program for firefighters so that members can get that pre-scan at any time,” said Jones. “Many members across our association don’t have a family doctor who can do that quickly.”

Jones reported that the sector could also benefit from hiring more people and bringing back workers who left since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The labor shortage is just like any other workplace in Nova Scotia, and the fire department has exactly the same problem,” he said. “From the information I have been talking to members of various departments, it is difficult for members to come out and participate and become members of the fire department.”

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Jones said it was difficult to estimate how many workers are currently in the profession, but said there are recruitment problems statewide.

He also renewed his call for better governance structures to oversee local fire services.

“What needs to change, in my opinion, is that we need a government department in charge of firefighting,” Jones said. “Currently, we do not have a department that is accurately responsible for firefighting operations and ensures that there are minimum standards that we all meet across the board.”

Overall, Jones was encouraged by the response and looks forward to future collaborations.

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