For The Record – Overcoming PTSD and mental trauma in firefighters

Kristy Schiewe / January 8th, 2020

Firefighters rely heavily on the support of each other after responding to traumatic incidents.

(Kristy Schiewe / Reporter)

Rychtowski adds that there has been a dramatic cultural shift within all emergency services. First responders are highly encouraged to drop the “tough it up” attitude and focus on using the support of the people around them after witnessing traumatic incidents.

“The tough part for people to understand is that we have to compartmentalize our emotional response so that we can get through the job. We are still affected by what we’re doing…the sounds, smells, sights. It’s how we delay our reactions is how effective we will be while relieving the stress that you’ve built up…It can be very difficult going through just one scene, let alone multiple scenes.”

He says that his firehall specifically holds regular meetings and information sessions on the Critical Incident Stress Managing systems in place, has 24/7 access to reach out to leaders, and an open door policy available for anyone who wants to relieve pressure after a critical incident.

“You’re not limp, lame, or lazy if you speak out. People are now looking at it from a different perspective where it’s like how can we assist, how can we help these people avoid going down a slippery slope.”

Rychtowski says that general mental stress attacks each individual different. He says that although an open door policy is in place, it isn’t necessarily always easy for the individual to want to share their emotions, adding that he reaches out to the individual to make sure they know that someone cares.

To learn more about PTSD and mental trauma, click below. 

Firefighters are often the first to arrive to medical emergencies such as car accidents, sudden deaths, traumatic injuries, and incidents involving young children, all of which can be damaging to witness. Firefighters are among the highest rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in any profession.

Chilliwack firefighter Mike Rychtowski was diagnosed with PTSD over six years ago and currently attends therapy to help relieve the symptoms. He says that for him personally, it takes a few days to process what happened after attending an incident, adding it often feels like a ‘hangover.’ Nausea, headaches, and upset stomach are just a few symptoms he feels when his body is processing chemicals present going through high stress scenarios.

 “We are the ones running in when everyone else is running away. Quite often, we push aside our emotions to get through, with that delayed reaction..you don’t really know when it’ll seep in, you could be sitting with your kids at the dinner table, and all of a sudden, the memories, like everything comes flooding back.” – Mike Rychtowski, firefighter

One of the biggest symptoms of PTSD is lack of sleep and no motivation.

(Kristy Schiewe / Reporter)