Post-traumatic stress a growing concern for Montreal firefighters

The head of Montreal's firefighters union says his members need more support from the province in dealing with an increasing number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The number of reported PTSD cases among its members has shot up dramatically in recent years — from just six cases in 2013 to 22 in 2018.

Union president Chris Ross told CJAD 800's Andrew Carter that a large part of the increase has to do with the increased responsibilities that firefighters have had for the past decade or so. Since 2007, firefighters have been trained to handle more than just calls for fires and gas leaks — they're now dealing with medical emergencies as well.

"I'd say about three-quarters of out interventions now are of a medical nature. We have a lot more of that human contact than we've ever had as a firefighter before," Ross says.

Firefighters are now dealing with calls for suicides, drug overdoses, and other medical emergencies — including those involving children.

"I've done CPR on kids a few times in my career. It's one of those things that you never forget," Ross says. "I can tell you the day, the time, what was playing on the TV in the living room. You follow that for a long time in your career, and it builds up. And that's what we're getting now after the eight to 10 years of doing medical calls. We're starting to see that building up within our members.

Ross says better training for incoming firefighters would help — and so would removing the stigma associated with needing help. He says those with physical illnesses have a far easier time getting a case heard by the worker's compensation board (the CNESST) than those who are having trouble dealing with the mental stresses of their jobs.

Firefighters from across Quebec are calling on the Legault government to update the law to have PTSD recognized as a condition for which workers can claim benefits — as it is elsewhere in Canada.

Labour Minister Jean Boulet is on record as saying he is open to the idea, though there's no hint as to when a change might come.