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The Debut of the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ New Course for Therapists

by Matthew Johnston, RCC

Earlier this fall, the BC Professional Fire Fighters Association (“BCPFFA”) hosted a two-day training opportunity for clinicians interested in working with First Responders. The course titled Occupational Awareness Training for Therapists: Understanding First Responder Trauma, is an innovative way to reduce the sub-cultural divide between mental health professionals and the almost 4,000 professional fire fighters throughout our province.

The course was created and co-facilitated by RCC and full-time professional fire fighter Matthew Johnston. Over the two days, the sold-out class learned about the nuances of modern first responder sub-culture and the impact training, stoic workplaces and exposure to trauma has on fire fighters seeking mental health support.

The class heard from newly appointed Vancouver Fire Chief Darrell Reid, who spoke of the evolution of mental health stigma in the fire hall, along with a panel of active Vancouver fire fighters during our ‘Lunch and Learn’.

Vancouver Fire Chief Darrell Reid
Vancouver Fire Chief Darrell Reid

Dr. Duncan Shields presented on clinician competencies applied to working with fire fighters and two members of Coquitlam Fire Rescue presented on Peer Support and the impact spirituality plays within the first responder subculture. We also had representatives from WorkSafeBC BC in attendance to discuss the claim structure for psychological injuries in relation to workplace trauma for fire fighters.

Dr. Duncan Shields, RCC
Dr. Duncan Shields, RCC

This 2-day training experience has been granted 14 Continuing Education Credits through the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. In addition, the BCPFFA continues a working relationship with course participants through creating a network of occupationally aware clinicians who we can recommend to our members throughout the province.

This course is one of several on-going mental health initiatives created through the BCPFFA, with the intention of reducing the stigma of mental health challenges for all first responders. Our goal is to have fire fighters understand the benefits of actively reaching out for mental health support in a proactive fashion; thereby mitigating the psychological impact of emergency call volume and traumatic incidents. Through the Occupational Awareness Training for Therapists, our plan is to assemble a vetted network of clinicians throughout the province and continue to lobby for all employers of fire fighters to recognize Registered Clinical Counsellors under existing Extended Health Plans.

Clinician Feedback from Our Course:

“The entire two days was captivating. Never a dull moment, and I have been to many training events. Trust me, this one was the best by far.”

“Valuable insights into relationship-building, establishing trust and approaching the issue of trauma with firefighters.”

“Wonderfully presented, deeply personal, informative, and content rich. Fantastic training connecting counselling therapists with the culture and context of First Responders.”

In 2018, we look forward to providing this course throughout the province, which will likely include the following cities:

  • Victoria/Nanaimo,
  • Kelowna,
  • Prince George,
  • Cranbrook,
  • Vancouver/Surrey
Steve Farina (l), VP of the BCPFFA and Matt Johnston, RCC and Firefighter
Steve Farina (l), VP of the BCPFFA and Matt Johnston (r), RCC and Fire fighter

If you are interested in receiving more information on this course, including when course dates are set, please contact Shelley Barrett at  and Matthew Johnston at

The BC Professional Fire Fighters Association would like to thank the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors for their continued support on this important initiative. Our fire fighters are fortunate to have access to a wide array of talented clinicians throughout the province.


Steve Farina Matthew Johnston
Vice President, BCPFFA Registered Clinical Counsellor
Coquitlam Fire Rescue Captain Surrey Fire Fighter


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