Firefighters hope coin will spark conversation about mental health

By Charles Lefebvre
January 23, 2019 - 11:55am Updated: January 23, 2019 - 1:44pm

MEDICINE HAT, AB — A group of Alberta firefighters have launched a new initiative aimed at allowing first responders to break down barriers and talk about mental health.

Project All In was created by a pair of Alberta firefighters, as a way to address mental health issues and concerns they are having. The project sees first responders purchase a coin, which they can use to discreetly tell fellow colleagues that they need to talk.

Gregg Schaalje, who currently works as a firefighter with Rocky View County, came up with the idea alongside fellow firefighters Chad Guenter and Ryan Fowler, while they were paddle boarding with another firefighter on the Bow River eight weeks ago. Schaalje said it was a great idea, and noted the next day he had to attend a debriefing session with his fire department.

“After I came out of that meeting, I called Chad up, and said, ‘we have to do this idea, we have to do the coin, let’s get on it, and let’s do it immediately,’” he said over the phone from Okotoks earlier this week.

The coin has a buffalo on one side, and a maple leaf on the other. Schaalje, who served as a member of the Medicine Hat Fire Service for 12 years, explained first responders in possession of the coin can either present it to their colleague, or send a photo of it via text message, as a way to begin a conversation.

“The project is to really begin the tough conversation, when first responders - meaning police, fire, EMS, military, ER nurses, STARS Doctors, STARS Pilots, anybody that encompasses inside that – finds that they basically have their spectrum full, they don’t see anything else, and they’re at the end of their line, where they’re contemplating suicide,” he said. “It’s a tough topic, but what Chad and I want to do is to have a way without saying anything to be able to tell somebody else in their organization that’s part of the program that they need help.”

If the coin is presented buffalo side up, it means the person needs a debriefing session. If the coin is put maple leaf side up, it means the person needs more serious help.

Schaalje says he and Guenter have lost many of their friends and fellow first responders to suicide, and are hoping the coin can be used as a tool to help start conversations.

“What we find is we’re Type-A personalities,” he said. “We can handle it, we’re good, People come to us for help, we don’t go to people for help.

“On the back of a lot of PTSD programs, mental health and wellness programs, the studies and the scientific aspects of it, the help programs are amazing, they truly are amazing. When I talked to a psychologist in Alberta who heard of our program, they said that nobody has ever really thought of the program on how to initiate or ask for that help.”

Schaalje says they’ve discussed with more than 60 agencies across Canada about the coin, with 2,800 coins being handed out. He says coins have also been handed out to agencies in Honduras, the Cayman Islands and the United States.

“It’s spread like a wildfire in the summertime when we’re chasing prairie fires, it has a mind of it’s own,” he said. “This journey we’ve been on for the last eight weeks has been unbelievable, because of the feedback we’ve been getting.”

The Rocky View County Fire Department, Cochrane Fire Department and the Canmore Fire Department were the first adopters of the program, with Schaalje saying several RCMP detachments have also requested the coins.

 

More information can be found online at projectallin.ca or the organization’s Facebook page. 

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