(The Sault Star) Garden River gets new first responder van, plans to tackle PTSD

The Garden River Fire Department welcomed a new first responder vehicle on Thursday, one that was donated by the provincial Ministry of Health.

It’s part of the Ontario First Nation Health Action Plan and the ongoing effort by the ministry to develop and maintain emergency first response teams within northern First Nations communities.

Representing the ministry at the ceremony was regional training coordinator Ed Landriault, who works at the Sault Area Hospital and has been running the first emergency training program within First Nations communities across the province in the past seven years.

’What a first response team does is respond to medical emergency within the community, and they provide primary care of stabilizing a patient until paramedics can arrive,’ said Landriault.

While the first responder vehicle isn’t used to transport anyone, it is configured pretty much the same as an ambulance, he added.

’The thing I like about it is the height inside. You can’t put a six-feet-two man in a regular ambulance in the province,’ he said of the specially-designed vehicle.

As for the training program, which aims to equip first responder team with the necessary skills, he said his goal is to ‘ideally put a team in every community that wants one.’

There are now about 35 teams in Ontario.

Participants will learn ‘a standard first aid and CPR course’ for the first 16 hours of the training; with the next 40 hours assigned to tackle emergency response materials like how to deliver oxygen, read vital signs, and more – using the same equipment as a paramedic.

’The ministry supplies all the equipment, the vehicle, pays for the gas, insurance, any maintenance,’ he said. ‘The goal of the program is that it should not cost the community anything. It’s 100 per cent funded by the ministry of health.’

Garden River Fire Chief Steve Nolan, who has held the position for the past 10 years, extended his appreciation to the ministry.

’It’s very exciting for Garden River First Nation and Garden River Fire Department to have a gift like this from the ministry of health,’ Nolan said, adding that it’s the third vehicle sponsored by the ministry.

He says the community is ‘continuously learning and trying to build’ meaningful relationships with the government and other third parties, but there’s work to be done.

Nolan, along with the Ontario Native Fire Fighters Society, which represents many First Nations in the province, recently met with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, as they signed a strategic plan agreement to address the concerns that the communities have.

’We’re far from where we’d like to be, but we’re better today than we were yesterday,’ he said.

Joe Corbiere, of the Garden River Fire Department, spoke of the need to address one those concerns, which is the trauma that many First Nation first responders face in their line of work.

’The program that we’re trying to put together is how the first responder deals with that trauma,’ Corbiere said.

’If you got a broken leg, there’s always somebody to go and talk to and get assistance. But with trauma, the whole idea is that it’s unseen,’ said Corbiere, explaining that the stigma that surrounds post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) makes the first responders reluctant to seek for help.

While there are health professionals in the community, they’re not generally available to deal with PTSD cases, he said.

Not helping matters is the tendency for people within the community to ‘not want to show their weakness.’

’What we’re looking at is a partnership and a working relationship between the health professionals who deal in trauma and indigenous health professionals who deal in trauma,’ Corbiere said. ‘It’d be acting as a bridge between the Canadian style health and the indigenous style.’

’We’d also be bringing indigenous healers and spiritual people to deal with the situation in the community in the ways that they’re comfortable with.’

The fire department is hoping to secure funding to host a ‘3-day summit’ with the aim of creating a model to deal with the trauma faced by first responders in a culturally sensitive way.

Ultimately, the goal is to keep the community and its people safe and ‘hopefully help prevent suicide and any form of trauma.’
— Bambang Sadewo
Garden River Fire Chief Steve Nolan (L) and a member of the fire department Ritch Nolan try out the new first responder vehicle on Thursday, June 29, 2017, at Garden River, Ont. (Bambang Sadewo/Special To The Sault Star)

Garden River Fire Chief Steve Nolan (L) and a member of the fire department Ritch Nolan try out the new first responder vehicle on Thursday, June 29, 2017, at Garden River, Ont. (Bambang Sadewo/Special To The Sault Star)