Fire fighters in Steinbach now have access to planned wellness events each month as the department looks to improve mental wellness and resiliency in the department.
After a couple of these events, Assistant Fire Chief Russ Reimer is confident they are on the right track, basing his reaction on the response from the crew.
“We have definitely agreed that now it will be once a month,” he says.
Last month, they got together for some go-kart racing.
“My idea behind that was, years back when I was a more junior firefighter here, I remembered us going to the go-kart track in the city... I remember how much trouble we got in with the staff as well for how rough we were with the karts and we had demerits, and I think we got shut down early. We weren't allowed to race anymore, but I mean, what I recalled, was how much I laughed. You know, sometimes in your life you laugh so hard your tummy hurts.”
Reimer says that it seems we have fewer of those laughing experiences as we grow older, but there is great benefit in having a few laughing fits.
“I laughed so much the last time we went with the department and hammered these carts and wondered who in their right mind allows the fire department to schedule themselves on a go-kart track.”
He had a good feeling about bringing the current team to the tracks and was not disappointed with the reaction.
“I quietly knew that by getting the members to go out and race go carts that this would be really, really good for the members mental health and just straight up laugh like a kid and forget everything you have going on in your life for the next couple hours and just let ‘er rip and be a kid again.”
Throughout the evening, Reimer checked in with each team member to see if they were enjoying the experience.
“They were all like little kids, chatting with each other about what had happened on the go-kart track and now talking about real things in their lives, you know, and I was like, ‘this is brilliant, it's really, really going to work.’ And I think it will not only change the fire department that the city has, like the way we respond to calls, it's going to change the dads, the moms, the brothers, the sisters, it's going to change lives and at a minimum, I'm a firm believer that with chief supporting this and the more we get behind peer support, I think we'll see things like the divorce rate come down within at least our realm.
“And if we can expand this to emergency services overall for medics, police, military, I really think we could have a huge impact on changing some of those, the gross stats we see surrounding emergency services. And especially staying away from things like firefighter suicide.”
Reimer says there's a lot of mental health crisis within this line of work.
“I think now, more and more firefighters are becoming aware that you know what, deep down you're pretty damaged from what you've seen and what you continue to see. And moving forward is going to be very difficult if people don't embrace these ideas of resilience and mental health at high levels.”
Reimer is grateful to the fire department and the fire chief for supporting this initiative.
“We're not just going to continue the evening resilient nights, we're looking this year on how we can expand our peer support to be even better, even greater. Even more so in the day-by-day way of doing things. So, it's a big, big undertaking for us, but we're very serious about it and it's going excellent.”
-With files from Carly Koop
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