Mike Starchuk - Surrey City Councillor

Kevin’s Story

Last week (March 3, 2015), we lost a Surrey Fire Fighter with nearly 20 years of experience. Kevin was dedicated to the Fire Service, to the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund, and to the Fire Fighters’ Association in Surrey. Kevin’s story is similar to other First Responders who suffered from mental health issues. The Vancouver Sun published an article (March 7, 2015) that spoke to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the First Responder community. The link to that article can be found here: http://www.vancouversun.com/health/First+responders+ramp+stress+management+after+rash+suicides/10868487/story.html

In Kevin’s case, a string of emergency response events starting in 2005, led to his diagnosis of PTSD in 2010. There was a claim for benefits to WorkSafeBC (WSBC) that was accepted by the Board. From the time he was recognized by WSBC for his PTSD (that is occupationally linked to Kevin), to his last days on earth, there weren’t any WSBC policies or mechanisms in place, to follow-up with Kevin’s mental health challenges.

Maltese Cross with Black Band - MikeStarchuk.comThe loss of Kevin has raised many mental health based questions which all lead to a continuum of care that is not offered to workers who have had successful WSBC claims for mental health conditions. The Surrey Fire Fighters’ Association decided to use the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Association (BCPFFA) Legislative Conference (March 9 and 10) to bring Kevin’s story forward. This conference was combined with the BC Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial, where those that passed away, due to occupational causes, are recognized as Line of Duty Deaths (LODD). Firefighters from all regions across BC were in attendance to recognize the addition of 13 firefighters to the Firefighter Memorial.

Vice President Dave Burns made an unscheduled appearance at the educational portion of the conference to tell Kevin’s story. At that time, VP Burns asked the delegation to share Kevin’s story while they were meeting with their MLAs. Kevin’s story grabbed the hearts of all there, and everyone was in agreement that something needs to be done to prevent another First Responder from harming themselves.

Kevin’s story can be paired down to a few simple facts. Kevin’s string of emergency response events began in 2005, which played a significant part in his PTSD diagnosis. These emergency events were occupationally-related and accepted by WSBC. After discharge from his mental health practitioner, there was no mechanism or policies in place by WSBC to follow-up on Kevin’s mental health status. Ultimately, Kevin’s PTSD condition played a role in his passing last week.

In his address to the BCPFFA delegation, VP Burns provided a possible solution for consideration. By way of analogy, when you go to a dentist, they always make sure you are contacted for follow-up. In the world of First Responders, who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition such as PTSD or Major Depression, First Responders are left to fend for themselves after they are discharged by a mental health professional. WSBC should consult with the mental health community of practitioners, to come up with a set of criteria for post discharge oversight.

A post discharge policy could be as simple as a follow-up schedule for those who have had a diagnosis of PTSD, Major Depression, or other recognized emergency service-related mental health condition. The follow-up interval could have less frequency over time. An example could be follow-up after discharge of every 3 months for a while, then 6 month intervals, move to annual, every 3 years and so on. The policy makers can consult with the mental health professionals to come up with the format to follow-up with these struggling First Responders.

As a former firefighter and a member of group peer defusers who were regularly used to talk firefighters through difficult incidents, I can assure everyone that not all firefighters react the same to similar incidents. The saying goes, “an abnormal reaction to a set of abnormal events is normal.” What the saying doesn’t cover is that each person reacts and recovers differently and each individual will recover and react at different speeds.

As a Critical Incident Scene Management peer defuser, I spoke with six firefighters in BC who had been formally diagnosed with PTSD. Now there are five. What I can tell you is ALL of these First Responders had been with me some time after their diagnosis, and the conversations always led to tearful conversations. These people have been affected by what they saw, smelled, heard, felt and did, while at work performing their duties. It’s time for the organization that is responsible for protecting BC workers to look at this in greater detail. WSBC made some progressive changes to the Act on July 1 2012. They created criteria for mental health practitioners to use, and created a better understanding of how First Responders are affected by what they are exposed to. No longer could First Responders be expected to be “tough enough” to deal with any incident, just because they were First Responders.

What needs to be done TODAY, is for WSBC to develop a policy, with mental health professionals, to deal with post discharge patients. We need to do this before another wife, child and friend has to endure this type of tragedy. My heartfelt condolences go to Kevin’s family. I hope someday, they will better understand that Kevin’s work-related mental health conditions, were likely contributing factors in his passing. I hope Kevin’s story will positively impact another First Responder, and produce changes to WSBC policy to better follow-up with First Responders with accepted mental health claims.

 

19 Responses to Kevin’s Story

  1. Thank you Kevin, and Mike for your work in this…The bad dreams, night sweats…etc. to numerous to mention, the worse one drop of the hat crying..hate that the most, Kevin will truly be missed…Let’s hope they open their eyes and see the others that have succumbed to this awful disorder!! I hate it everyday.

  2. Thanks Mike for continuing your dedicated work on behalf of all first responders in BC. Let’s not let Kevin’s tragic passing be in vain.

  3. Thank you Mike for being Kevin’s voice, and a voice for all emergency service personnel who suffer from PTSD. Thank you for trying to take away the shame that some may feel, if they were to come forward with their emotional and physical challenges they are facing, due to years of exposure to difficult situations while working in this field. Emergency Service Workers are often unrecognized hero’s for their dedication to helping others in crisis.. and in doing so, sometimes they are left with their own personal struggles. May the efforts put forth by you and others, create a better awareness that sometimes our hero’s need someone else to be their hero too. May Kevin RIP. Thanks you Mike, sincerely.

  4. See “your not alone” on facebook, bc first responders are fighting back. I was the one who had the policy changed in 2012 or contact lisa jennings, she is on facebook and has been in the Times colonmist.

    • Thank you so much for your feedback. Like you, I was able to provide feedback as a stakeholder when the policy was up for review. The request now is for WSBC to create the post discharge follow-up which won’t need to go through the same process as the review in 2011/12. The debriefings after critical incidents are now provided for by WSBC mental health practitioners. This is a great step and we all hope they take the next step in protecting our First Responders.

  5. Mike, I would like to thank you for honestly and profoundly highlighting the struggles of first responders. Kevin was my younger brother, and he will be missed tremendously. It is a horrible experience for a family to lose a loved one in this way, especially when that loved one gave so much of their life to helping others.

    On behalf of our entire family, please accept my thanks and appreciation for bringing to light the seriousness of PTSD, as well as some of the gaps in mental healthcare that people suffering from it often slip through.

    Lorna Hegarty & Family

    • Lorna, Thank you for your kind words and thoughts. My sincere condolences go to your family. Kevin came to work with a sense of purpose each day and I enjoyed my time working with him. Sorely missed but not forgotten.

  6. I’m with you on need for change. I’m also extremely sorry to all for the loss of a good man. Thank you for sharing the effort to bring about change.

    Things are improving, it seems. We are all at the very least learning to talk to one another. Government? They’ve known of the issues for us now, for a very, very long time. Work Safe: does need to catch up.

    In my own case. Due to ‘limits of the law’ at the time of filing: my claim was never accepted.

    http://www.leg.bc.ca/hansard/38th2nd/h60320a.htm

    We sincerely need ‘Presumption of Illness’ language in the Workers Compensation Act. And, I’m with you: Community-Based Networks for follow-up care.

    Warmest Regards and Deepest Condolences. Thank you all for your service.

    • I am also all for the need for change. My late husband was a Vancouver Fire fighter who took his own life and his claim was never accepted. The new rules came into effect after his death. I feel for his family and friends as it is a tragic thing to have happen. More awareness needs to be made about this.

  7. This post discharge policy has to be implemented. It’s hard enough for the person struggling to cope with everyday life, let alone be able to reach out for the help they may desperately need. For something that is so hard to admit, and for people to accept and understand, a scheduled discharge policy would allow for an environment where people are assisted in understanding some of the on-going challenges they are facing are just a part of the recovery, and not the way things will always be. My condolences go out to Kevin’s family. Thanks for your words Mike, this dialogue must take place, and furthermore be implemented.

  8. Kevin was friend and a co-worker for 20 years, the loss of Kevin has been a difficult situation to accept and I would be lying if I said it has had no effect on my psyche. On the contrary, it has made me reflect on my own situation especially on the PTS that we all bear as First Responders. At the onset of my career, I truly thought that PTS was a condition that only affected other people, other professions. I marginalized the suggestion that PTS was a valid occupational hazard.

    However, many years ago I came to the understanding and realization that I was wrong, PTS affects us all. Kevin’s Story only serves to drive this realization home and exemplify the fact that more resources are needed to offset the negative consequences of PTS. I consider myself as “lucky,” being one of those individuals who have been able to effectively cope with PTS. Unfortunately, continuing to rely on luck is costing lives.

    Currently, there are some positive measures in place designed to assist workers manage with PTS. Is there enough being done? It would be difficult standing before Kevin’s family, or the other 31 First Responder families across Canada (Vancouver Sun article, March 7/2015: First Responders Act to Manage Stress ) and honestly say “ the system cannot be improved.” Any proactive or additional resources related to combating PTS is a step in the right direction. I agree with Mr. Sanderson, it is important that we do not allow the tragic passing of Kevin, or any other PTSD sufferer, be in vain.

  9. My heartfelt condolences go out to Kevin’s family, friends and Brotherhood of Firefighters.

    I am a Paramedic in BC, also suffering from a Mental Health Injury (PTSD) sustained at work and am the founder of a grass roots group called You are not alone. We are making headway with steely determination and support from hundreds of citizens of BC including our Brothers and Sister in all First Responders. We will change WSBC Legislation and add a Presumptive Clause as well as further changes that will benefit the Worker, and make WSBC more accountable. We do this for those who sadly will follow in our footsteps and in honor of those we have lost, for you Kevin.

    If anyone wants to help our cause, please contact me at the email address above.

    Blessings,

    Lisa Jennings
    Paramedic
    Founder, You are not alone

  10. “………I think the system has plenty of room for improvement……”
    Thanks for doing the right thing, Mike!
    Best,
    Peter

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