Canadian Firefighter Magazine

From the Editor: Helping those who help

Laura Aiken   

Features First Responders Laura Aiken mental health

January is a time of many things. For some, it’s staring down a bitter winter in wait of spring. For others, it’s committing to New Year’s resolutions and personal betterment. For many, it’s the dreaded post-Christmas credit card assessment. For the lucky ones, it’s just the seasonal height of a beloved sport. January can be a bit of all of this. Whatever January is to you, I bet it’s reflective in some manner. That’s just the nature of its weight.

I have a suggested reflection for provinces and one that needs to continue rising in Canadian discourse: How are they helping those that help the public when they need it most? As a society, where do we stand when it comes to caring for the occupational injuries of first responders who are willing to brave the unimaginable to salvage what can be saved? Saving lives is a firefighter’s job. Are we, as a country, doing what we can to save the lives of our firefighters by ensuring their mental and physical well-being to the best of our ability?

Without a doubt, more can and needs to be done. Presumptive cancer legislation is a provincial responsibility and thus lacks federal unity. Human bodies are human bodies whether they live in Nova Scotia or Manitoba, but they are treated differently by default of geographical divide. Recently, Yukon found itself in the news when a CBC story reported the territory is falling behind other jurisdictions when it comes to occupational cancer coverage. Should workers’ compensation be a federal responsibility? That’s a big question and too loaded to debate with fairly in this short space, but provinces and territories should be striving to keep pace with one another. There are certainly changes afoot. Nova Scotia made WCB coverage mandatory for volunteer firefighters in October of last year. In 2019 the government of Saskatchewan expanded WCB coverage for volunteer firefighters and added six new presumptive cancers.

When it comes to mental health, ensuring access to the appropriate services for those who are not covered and the cost of services as a barrier, are ongoing concerns. In late December, Global News drew attention to the B.C. First Responder Resiliency Program and the mega cash crunch its facing. In July of 2019, The Saskatchewan Workers Compensation Board and the Saskatchewan First Responders Mental Health Committee announced a joint initiative to improve mental health services to first responders. Good news, but of course, more can always be done nationwide. I am confident the conversation ­— the reflection — will continue because it is the fundamentally progressive nature of humans to feel that more can always be done; things can always be better. We are a species obsessed with upgrading.


The fire service is blessed with passionate associations and unions that lobby for this progress on its behalf. First responder health as a priority in the public and government eye is growing, as evidenced in part by the changes exampled here.

For the firefighter, it is up to you to be your best advocate. Your voice of distress, physical or mental, needs to be shared and heard. The conversation around the holistic health of firefighters is a top priority for Canadian Firefighter. If you lose your health, there is not much left. Use the natural inclination January affords to be sure your voice is heard if and when it needs to be.

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