Editor’s Note: Today we continue a series of video stories about City of Edmonton employees. In their own words. But, first, just a few more of ours. Together, the 14,000 people who work for the City help to imagine, construct, maintain, operate, and animate this place called Edmonton—where we have all decided to build, together, the value of our lives.
This is our story. This is the story of the Edmonton Fire Rescue Services Peer Support Team.
First responders are often associated with strength—the physical capacity required to save lives, protect the public, and prevent disaster. Although physical wellness is a component for those directly combatting emergencies, we tend to overlook the mental resilience required by first responders—both on the front line and behind the scenes—as they persevere through dangerous and highly stressful events day in and day out.
Mental health awareness over recent decades has allowed agencies to understand the long-term effects that may afflict first responders, knowingly or unknowingly, after a fateful encounter or culminating from years of service. Many of those in need of support may not realize they are slipping or they may dismiss warning signs due to a personal sense of overreaction or a fear of judgement from peers. In 2017, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services (EFRS) proactively established the Peer Support Team: a group of 29 caring employees who volunteer their time to support their colleagues dealing with mental health issues.
“The EFRS Peer Support Team has ‘A Peer for Every Peer’,” explained Mental Health Coordinator Toni Boyko. “Our goal is to have someone on the team for every member of the Department at all times so that everyone goes home healthy and safe. No one should feel alone.”
An EFRS member in need of assistance can easily connect with a Peer Support Team member. In true outreach, team members’ bios and contacts are listed on the EFRS intranet and categorized by working area—allowing organization members to speak with someone familiar or someone entirely new. The team, backed by extensive mental health training, then works together to determine the best way to help the individual in need.
United by experience, empathy, advocacy and a heartfelt desire to serve their teammates, the Peer Support Team was a finalist in the Helpful category of the Cultural Commitment Awards* in 2018. Described as “heroes helping heroes,” the members were praised for “epitomizing” the word helpful.
“This recognition affirms the importance of the work of the Peer Support Team,” said Boyko. “The members of the team are heroes in many ways.”