As an active Paramedic for the past 13 years, Brittany Smith gives back to her First Responder community as a volunteer with Ottawa First Responders Foundation (OFRF), focusing on the Peer to Peer support program.

Smith received training for her duty work as a Paramedic and for the calls she receives in her volunteer work with OFRF, however, there is a gap when it comes to supporting and communicating with other First Responders.

Smith illustrates, “We are zipped up on calls with our ‘thick skin’ on. Talking to each other includes barriers to openness, so we will ask how each other are but often still are wearing thick skin.” She continues, “Saving lives and feelings don’t always go together, it doesn’t mean we feel nothing inside. At the end of the day, the thoughts can come. The Peer Support team makes a difference, it helps to talk about what you are going through. Taking away the stigma, and taking people’s needs seriously.”

In order to process tough calls in a chaotic environment, Paramedics will often debrief with their partners, management or supervisors will enquire about the wellbeing of their workforce, and colleagues will check in on each other. These groups of people have the skills to talk about well-being with the help of Responder to Responder mental health training.

“The Ottawa First Responders Foundation is so valuable! It fills a void in First Responder support services—to get help and know where to find resources or other avenues of help than therapy. We also work to model well-being for each other,” Smith exclaims.

Smith has joined the board and is setting up a peer support program at Ottawa First Responder Foundation. “As peers, we know what tri-service members may be going through, we keep contact numbers for other tri-service members when needed.”

The pandemic made a tough job much more difficult, as a First Responder with children at home needing home-schooling after getting off work at 5 am. Smith explains, “The stay-at-home orders played havoc with First Responders’ wellbeing and created fear all over. We are wearing extra PPE making it hot and uncomfortable. The biggest challenge was the initial fear of contaminating my family. The feeling at the time for health care workers was: if your family gets COVID it is your fault.”

Having peer support, a supportive home, practicing healthy coping skills and maintaining a solid work/life balance helps Smith bring her best to her job.

“This year, I would like to see the public turnout for First Responders! Show us you see these sacrifices we make. When the public comes out, it shows you see what we do and the personal sacrifices of first-responders required to keep the city safe. Show First Responders you are there for them too! We are still just starting to learn about mental wellness and trauma. Awareness, compassion, and showing up for each other are key to success.”
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