First Responders United is a non-profit organization that is part of the ministry outreach work of St. John’s United Church in Cardinal, Ontario. The Clinical Director of First Responders United is Edward Murray, Ph.D., Psy. D., M.A., C.Psych. Edward is a clinical psychologist and he is registered in the provinces of Ontario, British Columbia, and New Brunswick.

+What is a critical incident? A critical incident is any event that overwhelms a person’s usual ability to cope (Everly/Mitchell 1993).  For First Responders, some of the familiar critical incidents are:

  • Officer involved shooting
  • Death or injury of a co-worker
  • Suicide of a co-worker
  • Prolonged/failed rescue
  • Incidents involving children
  • Mass casualty
  • Large media influence
  • Victim known to responder
  • Exposure to infectious diseases
  • When your own safety is in peril
  • Administrative/Co-worker Betrayal 

A critical incident often produces fear, terror or helplessness (APA 1994).  A First Responder could be involved in one incident to as many as hundreds of incidents throughout their career.  The traumatic stress they experience may be cumulative over a number of years on the job or the number of traumatic incidents they experienced.  Not all First Responders react in the same way to similar incidents.

+What is critical incident stress? Most First Responders are exposed to more traumatic incidents in a month than the average citizen does in a whole lifetime.  Critical incident stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, by a group or an individual. Some of the symptoms of critical incident stress are:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Over/under eating
  • Withdrawal
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Increased alcohol consumption

These symptoms are natural responses to traumatic events, as long as they do not continue for an extended period of time (i.e., several months) or cause your life to become unmanageable (relationship problems, work-related problems, addictive behaviour, domestic violence, or other forms of serious life problems).

+What is PTSD? PTSD is a mental health disorder that can result from being exposed to a critical incident or traumatic event.  The common symptoms of PTSD are:

    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Sleep disturbances
    • Difficulties in concentration
    • Loss of interest in previous pleasurable activities
    • Irritability and Anger
    • Dissociation
    • Emotionally detached or numb
    • Recurring nightmares
    • Intrusive memories of traumatic incidents
    • Flashbacks
    • Avoidance of thoughts, feelings and conversations associated with the trauma
    • Restricted range of emotions
    • Social withdrawal / Detachment from others
    • Mistrust of self and/or others
    • Restricted range of emotions
    • Loss of confidence
    • Loss of faith
    • Loss of meaning and purpose
    • Guilt or shame
    • Loss of sex drive
    • Lack of empathy
    • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
    • Addictive or compulsive behaviour
    • Hypervigilance (feeling on high alert)

+Do I need to be Christian or religious to attend the retreats? No. While First Responders is an outreach ministry of St. John’s United Church in Cardinal, Ontario, our program is not religiously based. First Responders from all or no religious traditions are welcome to participate in our residential program. We welcome all First Responders regardless of their cultural, ethnic or sexual orientation.

Still have a question? Please contact us.

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