First Responders & Psychological Hazards

Maintaining First Responders health & well-being during the overdose Crisis

David Burns
Matthew Johnston


First Responder Health: Maintaining Well-Being During the Overdose Crisis

First Responders represent a unique segment of the population. These professionals routinely engage in emergency situations that overwhelm and even traumatize most civilians. This behavioural response is a trained reaction that is attractive to certain personality types, but counters the evolutionary nature of human brain development.

In this presentation we will examine the unique psychological challenges facing first responders and what can be done to sustain a healthy existence.

Issues surrounding call volume, scope of practice and call diversity will provide the audience a context for understanding the modern psychological challenges facing first responders.

The Surrey Fire Service identified many years ago that providing mental health support to members was critical to maintaining a healthy workforce. We developed a peer support program and implemented a CISM team to help members assist with their exposures to traumatic incidents. For many years this program has been very effective, but the loss of three members within a three month period strained the ability of our members to cope with the emotion of these events. Compounding this has been the stress on our members due to the ever increasing number of incidents occurring in our community due to the constant population growth. The opioid epidemic has also contributed to the demand for service across the city. To assist our members the City and the Union have collaborated on developing more resources and programs to assist our members to maintain their mental health.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the challenges facing first responders
  • Explain the services provided to SFD members
  • Explain the services developed through the BCPFFA
  • Overview how society’s suffering has contributed to the psychological crisis facing first responders.
  • How one’s natural negativity bias leaves oneself susceptible to moral injury, compassion fatigue and burnout.
  • What fire fighters and mental health professionals can do to bridge existing gaps to counter the mental health crisis.
Matt Johnston BIO

Matt Johnston is a clinical counsellor and full-time professional fire fighter. Matt has mastered the art of closing the gap between mental health services and first responders. Through his proactive, strengths-based approach, Matt’s ultimate goal is to alleviate the mental health crisis gripping first responders across North America.

Matt’s skill set is grounded by twenty years of study in the field of psychology and over ten years in clinical practice. His unique approach to conceptualizing trauma is an introspective blend of academic training, clinical practice and direct experience of attending over 2,000 emergency calls as a fire fighter in the Metro Vancouver area.

Matt is the creator of an innovative course for mental health professionals titled Occupational Awareness Training for Therapists: Understanding First Responder Trauma. This ‘first of its kind’ initiative provides specialized training to counsellors who look to build a sustainable, working relationship with first responders.

David Burns BIO
David Burns has worked with Surrey Fire Service for 29 years as a suppression fire fighter and holds the rank of captain. He has been a member of the workplace peer support and CISM team for the majority of his career and is the coordinator of the department’s Members and Family Assistance Program. He was the Vice President of the Surrey Fire Fighters’ Association for 10 years and is the Fraser Valley Vice President of the British Columbia Fire Fighters Association. David is a Master Trainer for the International Association of Fire Fighters and delivers peer support training throughout North America.

Topics – Workplace Wellness, Psycho-social, Trauma, Innovative Treatment, Neurology

This session is followed by


Register TODAY

Recovery Capital Conference of Canada
September 6th and 7th, 2018

Register for Recovery Capital Conference of Western Canada
Together We Can John Volken Academy Inner Visions Recovery
Sage Counselling and Addiction Services Interior Chemical Dependancy All Cleared Pardons Narcotics Anonymous
Chopra Health Centre Western Addiction Forum Sunshine Coast Health Centre New West Recovery