BRIDGEWATER - Paid and unpaid first responders do jobs that stress the body and mind and the impacts of that work can linger and inflict significant personal trauma.
Organizers of conference taking place here in September are encouraging all responders to attend a day-long event, the first of its kind on the South Shore, and learn from a selection of guest speakers about focusing on, and routes to, wellness.
The first "First Responders' Wellness Symposium: Keeping Strong People Strong" takes place at the Nova Scotia Community College - Lunenburg Campus in Bridgewater on Sept. 24. Pre-registration is requested by September 2 and the cost is $20 per person.
Organizing the event took over a year and the need to came to light because the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated complications amplified mental health pressures on, among others, those who worked in emergency services.
Morale has suffered and burnout has set in, said Wendy Rafuse, a retired nurse, whose background includes expertise in critical incident stress management and mental health matters. Rafuse and Bridgewater's deputy police chief, Danny MacPhee, are the chair-and-co-chairpersons, respectively, involved in organizing the symposium.
"I'm hoping it will give people an opportunity to come together to learn about mind, body and spiritual wellness," Rafuse said. "It's a chance to share and strengthen."
Of the 11 scheduled presenters, most are from Nova Scotia. The topic Bridgewater-based psychotherapist and counselling therapist, Lori Slaunwhite, plans to address is called "rewire and re-balance: creating a shift in your patterns and towards happiness."
Rafuse said she sought out individuals who had various backgrounds and could cover a cross section of topics.
The morning keynote speaker is Jeff Hosick, a psychotherapist, veteran firefighter and fire department chaplain, whose subject matter is titled "why do I keep having those haunting flashbacks?"
The day's last presenter is Ed Wohlmuth, a counselling therapist in Colchester County. His topic is "intro. to strategic resilience for first responders."
She said the event's success will be measured by the amount of interest that follows and whether or not participants think there's value in seeing the symposium continue on an annual basis.
In a phone interview, MacPhee said there's greater awareness about, and better attention paid to, mental health than at the time when he started his policing career. He was involved in a couple traumatic incidents in the early 2000s: the police vehicle he was in was shot at by a gunman during a hostage-taking situation in Bridgewater's industrial park. In 2003, he was among officers shot at on the west side of town during a pursuit of a fugitive. MacPhee and three others were awarded a bravery medal in 2006 for their efforts that day.
He credits Rafuse's influence in helping set-up critical incident stress programming for the Bridgewater Police Service. It's been widely understood that if responders can't take of themselves, it makes it difficult to take care of others. MacPhee is confident the symposium will be of assistance to those who attend and those teachings will be used to help others as a spin-off benefit.
"If it helps a couple of people, it will help even more people, too," MacPhee said.
To learn more about the event and to register, check out: https://www.firstresponderwellness.ca.