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First responders lace up their skates for mental health

Vancouver Island Free Daily - 9/8/2018

First responders face off for mental health in a friendly game of ice hockey, intent on raising awareness and support for those struggling to cope with depression and PTSD.

"We are just trying to be better at helping our members in the fire, police, and ambulance service. In the old days, everybody just kind of kept their heads down and we don't do that anymore," said organizer Steve Serbic, assistant chief of Esquimalt Fire Department.

In Canada 145 first responders died by suicide from 2015 to 2017, according to Tema Conter Memorial Trust, an organization dedicated to helping emergency, public safety and military members.

"You know, there are a lot of people hurting from some people they've lost. There have been some tough times, for Oak Bay Fire Department especially, and Esquimalt. I came from Surrey Fire and we lost some very good individuals, a few in a very short span of time and you know those guys are all dads, all great dads and husbands," said Serbic. "They put on a uniform and they were great at helping other people but not so good at helping themselves. These are amazing professions but they can be really, really hard on people that care. There is a cost to putting on a uniform."

The hockey game is a way to bring everyone together to connect and have tough but essential conversations. WorkSafeBC and a clinical psychologist will be at the event to share information.

"We thought it would be a good way to raise awareness about mental health, especially for first responders who wind up seeing terrible things. We want people to know there are people to talk to and resources to access," said Jason Hodge, executive director of Oak Bay Firefighters Charitable Foundation.

"A lot has changed just in the last year in the Victoria region. There wasn't a lot of support out there in the past but in the last year and a half, WCB has completely changed and done an about face. It is awesome. There has been tons of support," said Serbic.

The event begins with a pancake breakfast, giving first responders and the public a chance to mingle and chat.

"That's kind of what the breakfast is, come down with your family. It is an opportunity for us to talk to people and other first responders about mental health and suicide. It's not a feel-good topic but it's something that needs to be addressed," said Serbic.

After feasting on a pancake breakfast with the public, Greater Victoria first responders will lace up their skates and enter the ice together to highlight that "there are no borders when it comes to mental health – we are all in this together."

"There will be a lot of heavy hearts out there when the puck drops, but we are all trying our best to be better and to make sure this doesn't happen again," said Serbic. "This region is pretty special. I've travelled all over the world and this region is one the most caring ones I've ever been involved in. Not just the first responders but the people here."

"We are all in it together," said Hodge.

The First Responders Hockey Game, being held at the Archie Browning Sports Centre on Sept. 8, begins at 8:30 a.m. with the pancake breakfast followed by the puck drop on the hockey game at 11 a.m.

Also being held on the grounds that day will be the 7th Annual Cars, Rods and Rides car show from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Esquimalt Ribfest from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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