Former Vernon paramedic Don Devine, on the front lines for 32 years, shares his story of dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on the CBC TV documentary After The Sirens, which airs Sunday at 9 p.m. (After The Sirens photo)

Okanagan paramedics in focus for PTSD

Three paramedics, including former Vernon man, share horrors of dealing with PTSD

Twenty-two years ago Thursday – April 5, 1996 – then Vernon paramedic Don Devine and his partner got a call to go to a home on Mission Hill.

It had been a quiet, rainy morning, leading Devine to think the shift would be similar. All of that changed with one call, and changed Devine forever.

He and his partner were on-scene at the site of what turned out to be one of Canada’s worst mass killings, the slaying of members of the Gakhal family by Mark Chahal, who later killed himself in a Vernon motel.

“We got to the call and we were told that police didn’t know where the shooter was. That was my first indication guns were involved,” said Devine, who now lives in the North Shuswap, and reveals his story in a CBC TV documentary airing Sunday.

“There was a policeman inside, gun out, going from room to room. My partner immediately goes to a patient he has to work on. And I understood what was going on all of a sudden. A family was about to celebrate a wedding an estranged husband showed up with at least two firearms and murdered eight people; children, grandparents and everyone in between.”

Choking back tears, Devine had to continue on and assess what he and his partner were dealing with.

“I had to go and check whether this crumpled person on the floor was alive or dead. I had to go room to room. There were children…”

Devine and two other paramedics – one from Vancouver, the other from Ontario – are featured in a one-hour, riveting documentary called After The Sirens, produced and directed by Vancouver filmmaker Kevin Eastwood, which debuts Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Devine, Clive Derbyshire from Vancouver and Natalie Harris from Ontario talk about their dealings with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“All my energy drained out into the pavement,” Devine, a paramedic for 32 years, tells Eastwood of that Good Friday morning in 1996.

“I was confused, not understanding anymore. I remember saying very clearly to the supervisor, ‘call in a psychologist.’ There were six paramedics that were getting ready to go back for the second time to the scene in three different ambulances, already exposed to this.

“It took three hours for the clincial pyschologist to show up because he was busy. By then we were too sick. We didn’t want help, a lot of us. That very important first step didn’t happen. We call it the God Syndrome. You think you can save everybody. When you can’t, it’s hard.”

Derbyshire and Harris also share their experiences and dealings and sufferings with PTSD. Harris attempted suicide by swallowing pills, saved by a longtime friend. Derbyshire, who turned to methamphetamines to cope, contemplated taking his life as he walked over the Lions Gate Bridge.

Eastwood first met Derbyshire while filming an earlier documentary about Vancouver General Hospital’s emergency department.

“It was my first exposure to paramedics,” said Eastwood. I became aware that I was oblivious to the current situation and crisis with PTSD among paramedics. There was a general awareness about PTSD among first responders but the paramedics are really affected.

“Clive always seemed strong, impressive, powerful. I had no idea he was suffering from PTSD.”

According to the documentary, lots of people don’t know just how bad paramedics are suffering, and we learn that paramedics themselves either don’t say much or refuse to believe they’re suffering.

Eastwood introduces us in After The Sirens to Cheryl Drewitz-Chesney, author of PTSD Among Paramedics, and Vince Savoia, founder of TEMA, a PTSD support group named after a murder victim Savoia attended to as a former ambulance officer.

Drewitz-Chesney said in the general population across Canada, seven-to-10 per cent suffer PTSD. In paramedics, the number could be as high as one in four people, or 25 per cent, though the number could be higher as people may not be reporting.

Savoia says the national suicide average is 10 people per 100,000, yet the rate of suicide in the paramedic community is more than five times that average – 56 people per 100,000 (as of 2016).

Paramedics also have higher rates of PTSD than police officers and firefighters, even though they often go to the same calls. The author explains paramedics have longer and more intense exposure with patients.

Perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of the documentary is the revelation that even when paramedics do report PTSD, their claims are often not believed.

An Eastwood graphic shows there were 95 paramedic claims in B.C. in 2015. Only 13 were accepted.

“Something has to change there,” said Eastwood, who was told by another paramedic he should talk to Devine. He reached out to him and the pair met three times in 2017 to discuss Devine’s career for the film.

“He has seen more than his share of tragic scenes,” said Eastwood.

Today, Devine is a volunteer first responder auxiliary member, who still gets to go and help people, whose blood pressure and pulse rise each time he hears an ambulence siren. But he stays away from patient care.

And, as he admits on film, there are still triggers that he and other paramedics suffer from. In his case, mauve carpeting is an example that brings him back to that bloody Good Friday morning in Vernon.

“A lot of paramedics are sick because of it (PTSD),” said Devine. “They’ve taken their own lives. Their families are broken and gone. This is a society problem that is hugely expensive.”



roger@vernonmorningstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Director Kevin Eastwood’s riveting documentary After The Sirens, which details Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in three paramedics – including former Vernon paramedic Don Devine – airs Sunday on CBC TV at 9 p.m. (After The Sirens photo)

Just Posted

Telephone poles placed in centre of sidewalk angers West Kelowna watchdog

Audience Group calls placement of poles in new Boucherie Road upgrade project ‘idiocy’

Kelowna asking public to help update its Cultural Plan

Second survey this year to posted to gather public input about cultural programs and services

Three candidates drop out of Central Okanagan municipal election

Two running for Peachland/OK West trustee and OK East rural director candidate step aside

West Kelowna water warning downgraded

City lowers boil water notice for Lakeview water system to a water quality advisory

Ancestral remains uncovered at Fintry to be reburied

Remains found along Shorts Creek in Fintry Provincial Park during flood remediation measures

Your weekend weather update

Rain continues to move right across the Okanagan, Shuswap and Similkameen.

B.C. premier apologizes for removal of 1950s totem pole at Canada-U.S. border

First Nations say pole was raised at Peace Arch but removed to make way for tourism centre

Tornado touches down in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.

Environment Canada says cars and homes have been damaged by severe thunderstorms and high wind gusts

Low risk associated with case of pneumococcal disease in the South Okanagan

No identified risk to the public from recent case of pneumococcal disease with associated meningitis

An unexpected sight: Bear spotted eating another bear in central B.C.

Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief finds bear eating another bear’s carcass

RCMP confirm death of missing BC teen Jessica Patrick

No details on cause were given. Case is under criminal investigation and police are asking for tips.

CUTENESS OVERLOAD: 2 sea otters hold hands at the Vancouver Aquarium

Holding hands is a common – and adorable – way for otters to stay safe in the water

B.C. teen with autism a talented guitarist

Farley Mifsud is gaining fans with every performance

Yukon man facing new attempted murder charge in B.C. exploding mail case

Leon Nepper, 73, is now facing one charge each of aggravated assault and attempted murder

Most Read