A heavy price to pay

For more than three decades, Don Devine helped save lives.

The paramedic attended scenes that would have a lasting impact on him, scenes that would lead to the now-retired Shuswap resident down the dark path of post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD

Kevin Eastwood knew it was an important story to tell: what happens to first responders after seeing horrific scenes day after day.

So, the Optic Nerve Films director/producer set out to do just that when he made After the Sirens.

Eastwood did a documentary a couple years ago on the emergency room in Vancouver General Hospital and it was during that time he became aware of what paramedics face on the job.

“At the time, I was fairly oblivious to the kind of crisis that was happening in terms of PTSD. There has been increased awareness in the last five years or so, but I did not appreciate at the time what a crisis it was among paramedics,” said Eastwood, who then set out to document the plight or paramedics and first responders in the province.

Eastwood spoke to several first responders who are struggling with PTSD, including Devine, former Vernon paramedic.

Devine was a paramedic for 32 years, many of those years in the North Okanagan.

He has long been an advocate for mental health care for first responders, and he hopes the CBC documentary will bring the issue to the forefront.

“The message is consistent and it has to be heard,” said Devine. “The people of B.C. need to know how their paramedics are doing.

“The message is we're sicker than we thought we were. Sick is a wrong term, it's a brain injury from either a horrific single incident or over the years an accumulation of incidences.”

Devine said people need to know the impact on paramedics their job has on them.

“We are losing people to suicide, families are breaking up and it's a huge expense to us just in lives alone, never mind financial,” said Devine, who has retired to the Shuswap area.

Devine said things have improved over the years but “still too many fall through the cracks.”

Some are also intimidated by the stigma of seeking counselling.

Devine said the documentary offers a good look at PTSD and the first responders who deal with it.

After the Sirens airs on CBC at 9 p.m. Sunday, April 8.

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