Firefighters across the country are known for their heroism and dedication to protecting the citizens of Canada. Since 1848, there have been 1,375 firefighters added to the Canadian Firefighters Memorial in Ottawa. These men died while in the line of duty across the country.
On Friday, Ralph Goodale, minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, made a special announcement in Regina.
“I am pleased to announce the government of Canada proclaims the second Sunday in September, each year, to be Firefighter National Memorial Day, beginning Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017,” Goodale said.
On that day, each year, the Canadian flag will fly at half mast at all federal buildings and establishment from sunrise to sunset.
“Half mast is a rare honour, and it’s my hope that when Canadians see the flag lowered every year … it will cause them to ask ‘why?’ and then inspire them to think about the firefighters at work in their communities and the ones who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” Goodale said.
There are currently 144,000 volunteer firefighters across the country, on top of career firefighters. “I’m sure I bring with me the gratitude of the whole country for the sacrifices that you and your families are called upon to make,” Goodale said.
He spoke of the firefighters currently fighting wildfires in B.C., those who fought the Fort McMurray wildfire last year and the fires in Northern Saskatchewan the year before. Goodale said these efforts have been recognized around the world and demonstrate the tenacity and courage of Canada’s firefighting services.
As public safety minister, Goodale said he has a lot of tough things to deal with but one of the upsides is getting to know and work with firefighters and emergency workers of all kind.
“We’ve been pushing an agenda to support their needs, renewing national funding for the heavy search and rescue teams across all the regions of Canada, creating a new compensation award to help families of first responders who lose their lives in the line of duty,” he said.
Regina fire Chief Layne Jackson said today’s announcement was great.
“(When) Canadians see that they will ask what the day is, and maybe it will make them think about firefighters and the efforts they contribute to communities across Canada,” Jackson said, referring to the flags flying at half mast.
There’s a lot of discussions going on surrounding occupational diseases, like cancers, and post traumatic stress injuries. Jackson said there’s still a lot of work to be done to have occupational diseases and other less dramatic injuries and fatalities recognized.
The ultimate goal is to create a national action plan to help first responders cope with PTSD and injuries, developing better communication systems to function during emergency responses and improving building codes.
Better access to treatment for PTSD is an issue firefighters have been pursing for years. Goodale said he’s committed to pulling all the threads together to help address treatment for PTSD and post traumatic stress injuries.
“We know from the statistics that post traumatic stress injuries affect first responders disproportionately more than most other people, other than Canadian Forces personnel,” he said.
There have been ongoing discussions since Jan. 2016 involving fire services, other first responders and experts from academia from different municipalities to help create the national action plan.
Goodale wants treatment to be made more readily available and to do so in a way that doesn’t create stigmatization for those seeking treatment.
“There is common agreement that this is an area of public policy that needs greater coordination. We need to explore the ways we can make treatment more readily accessible, even in the most remote of locations, through the internet for example, online services that can help people access the treatment they need,” he said.
Goodale said a meeting of emergency ministers, both federal and provincial, has been planned for the near future.
“Our objective will be to get all of our jurisdictions and all of our resources focused and coordinated on delivering proper services to all emergency services personnel, wherever they may live and the quality of what you have access too should not depend on your postal code. It should be equivalent service nationally, across the country,” Goodale said.