Heroes are Human – Hope and Help for First Responders


(L-R): Paramedics Ian Winter, Bradley Hookey, Debbie Murphy and Krista Peddle. Photo courtesy of (c) Ian Winter

(L-R): Paramedics Ian Winter, Bradley Hookey, Debbie Murphy and Krista Peddle. Photo courtesy of (c) Ian Winter

I’m a paramedic with Eastern Health. For almost 9 years, I’ve worked everywhere from rural Newfoundland and Labrador to the oil field to metro St. John’s. I’ve even worked search and rescue.

I have seen many things that I will never be able to un-see; heard many things I will never be able to forget; and experienced some of the deepest despair from patients and their families that still sends a chill down my spine.

While I love what I do, the fact is, I can’t save everyone. Sometimes we have to tell families the worst news imaginable and this can take its toll on people in my field.

If you speak to almost any first responder, he or she will tell you there is a stigma in our profession. We often feel we have to appear unbreakable or impermeable to events that most people never face, and as a result many of us don’t ask for help when we need it.

But the truth is, heroes are human. While we suit up in the morning, unaware of what we may face that day, many of us still hold to that stigma – to be tough as nails, thick skinned, and able to handle any kind of scenario. So we keep our stress locked away, hidden, while each traumatic event piles onto the next. Unfortunately for some, this can lead to mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even suicide.

Photo courtesy of (c) Ian Winter

Photo courtesy of (c) Ian Winter

Between April 2014 and December 2016, 90 first responders died by suicide in Canada. That’s almost 100 people who had dedicated their lives to helping others, protecting them, being there for them.

I had read the statistics, heard and seen them on televised media outlets, in the newspaper, on social media, about people in the same lines of work as I, taking their lives. I sympathized, hurt, and even wondered what event was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for that person. You might say I was naïve, that it was somehow separate from me – until August 6, 2015.

That’s when a paramedic I worked alongside of, became one of those statistics. That morning I was at my mother’s place when I received a text message from a close friend and coworker that read: “Hey, did you hear what happened?” I jokingly replied to never start a conversation that way. Then he called me and told me that our colleague had just taken his life. It felt like every statistic I had encountered in my career hit me in the face. This is real, it actually happens. It’s not just something you hear or read.

Paramedic Chris Pearce

Paramedic Chris Pearce

My colleague and friend, Chris Pearce, had been a paramedic for 10 years. I only had the privilege to work with him for four of those years. A kind hearted, soft spoken soul who always had a smile – and who appeared to me to be fine.

It shook our department and the despair within our little family was thick. There was grief, anger and confusion. I was terrified that this could happen again.

There is Hope

Then I recalled the “Heroes are Human” seminar I had attended the previous year, hosted by Vince Savoia, executive director of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust. When Chris died I remembered everything they were talking about in that seminar. How there is help out there. There are outlets, and, there are resources. Chris’s death also drove home the realization that the stigma we carry had to end.

TEMA is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping first responders and military personnel across Canada who are battling mental illness, and/or PTSD. The toughest aspect is actually getting us to talk, to open up, and to understand that we are human.

In fact, we have to talk about these things or it could potentially lead to devastating circumstances. TEMA not only focuses on helping each individual who reaches out to them, but finally makes us realize that it’s OK NOT to be OK. That it’s OK to ask for help.

Honour through Loss
Scene from the First Responders Memorial Motorcycle Ride in honour of Chris Pearce’s memory, August 14, 2016. Photo courtesy of (c) Ian Winter

Scene from the First Responders Memorial Motorcycle Ride in honour of Chris Pearce’s memory, August 14, 2016. Photo courtesy of (c) Ian Winter

I was uplifted by this organization and inspired to somehow honour my coworker, Chris. Since he was a motorcycle enthusiast, I felt there was no better way to remember him than to have a motorcycle ride in his memory, so a committee was formed and the First Responders Memorial Motorcycle Ride was born.

We hosted our first event on August 14, 2016. The outcome was amazing, with people riding from as far away as Nova Scotia to take part.

Scene from the First Responders Memorial Motorcycle Ride in honour of Chris Pearce’s memory, August 14, 2016. Photo courtesy of (c) Ian Winter

Scene from the First Responders Memorial Motorcycle Ride in honour of Chris Pearce’s memory, August 14, 2016. Photo courtesy of (c) Ian Winter

As we gear up for our second annual event, which takes place Sunday, August 6th, we’ve received countless calls, emails, and messages from first responders and many others who are in a similar line of work, and even members of the public, inquiring about the ride. People want to know how they can help or even take part.

Paramedic Krista Peddle rides in support of the First Responders Memorial Motorcycle Ride

Paramedic Krista Peddle rides in support of the First Responders Memorial Motorcycle Ride. Photo courtesy of (c) Ian Winter

The ride is helping spread the word that there is help out there and that it’s ok to need it. As word gets out, we honour not only Chris’s memory but others who have also passed. Because of him, some of us are slowly coming forward and seeking the help that we need. Even though he’s no longer with us, Chris is still helping save lives. What greater gift is there than that? 

Learn more about the 2nd Annual First Responders Memorial Motorcycle Ride Event.

Mental Health Resource Links

This story was written by Krista Peddle, a paramedic with Eastern Health.

5 responses to “Heroes are Human – Hope and Help for First Responders

  1. Goosebumps. Worked trauma for 10 yrs. Stick together and reach out when needed. Knew Chris well. So sad..

  2. Now that I calm down some and wiped away the tears the story you have written involving my brother Chris Pearce was beautiful, and I’m so glad that people are opening up more and there is more help out there for people with PTSD. Yes there’s no need to keep everything bottled up after all you are human and things will bother you for life/career that you are living. Hats off to the people that are asking for help and know that you are well respected as for all of the 911 responders 🙂
    Thank you for keeping my brothers memory alive.

  3. What a beautiful story, you have described Chris Pearce so well, I grew up with him & his family & I remember the last time I spoke to Chris was at my workplace, I could hardly hear him, a voice from such a gentle soul. You are all human & have the same feelings as everyone else, it’s just that some let their feelings be known & others suffer in silence. Hopefully your story will help others come forward & get the help they need. R.I.P. CHRIS

  4. this is a very heartwarming story Ian
    thank you so much for sharing!
    I hope Sundays ride is a great success
    Dale Ann Rendell

  5. Thanks for sharing your story Krista, it is devastating to loose someone you work with. It is inspiring to hear how you have honoured your friend and co-worker. I hope we find ways to better support our first responders.

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