Hamilton firefighters have found a unique way to battle their stress

Those on the front lines of emergency calls such as firefighters, paramedics and other first responders have become more aware of post-traumatic stress disorder as calls for their services have grown.

Members of the Hamilton Fire Department have found a unique way to combat the problem.

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On a frigid weekday morning recently, a few members of the fire department gathered inside of the Budokai Judo & Jiu-Jitsu located in downtown Hamilton. The group dripped sweat as they were put through some intense training by one of the instructors.

This training in martial arts is helping them cope with stress in a healthy way. They’re bonding, and they’re learning how to protect themselves when out in the field.

“It’s not a good idea to just drop somebody when you are strangling them,” the instructor reminded his students while demonstrating a technique. “Just walk them back and lay them down.”

Tony Harris, president of the IAFF Local 20, which represents Hamilton firefighters, kept a watchful eye on the firefighters who have arrived to learn judo and jiu-jitsu.

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“With PTSD being a forefront in the fire service today, more and more members are beginning to feel the weight and struggles it places on you,” he explained. “Everyone is different with how they handle certain situations and what works best for them to deal with it. Several of our members began brainstorming different ideas on how to address these issues.”

The number of runs due to increased drug problems made it even more important to find a way to deal with stress.

“In 1996, the department went on 8,116 runs and in 2017 there were 14,546 runs,” Harris said. “We were up even 1,500 runs from last year. Dealing with these types of numbers, plus the extra danger out there with the drug overdoses, made us try to figure out a way to deal with the stress.”

Bryan Hanna has been with the department for 13 years. He explained that the new Judo training has been helpful for many different reasons and has been popular with people new to the department and even those who have even retired.

“We needed to find an outlet aside from going out and drinking with the guys or going out late at night, and this is a good way for us to get together and have a little one and one (time) as well as group sessions to get some physical activity and it is also mentally stimulating learning a new skill,” Hanna said.

Getting some extra training on how to deal with on-the-job problems has also been a big benefit of the martial arts instruction.

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“With the number of overdoses, several times they come to and want to be combative and they try to attack us out of confusion,” Hanna said. “We are learning here how to restrain them until the police officers can assist us or until they understand exactly what is going on — that they are coming through an overdose or a bad situation.”

He added, “we are learning judo and jiu-jitsu. Both of those are putting us in stressful situations so we know that we can survive and overcome any issue, and that applies to personal lives, family lives and professional lives.”

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The training has been a hit with all of the firefighters and paramedics who have signed up, and Hanna thinks it will grow in the future.

“This has been going on for about four weeks now. We’ve had, department-wide, about 20 individuals show interest,” he said. “It is a growing process. There are a lot of other individuals who are expressing interest, and I feel in the next six months or so this is going to be something major.”

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Ryan Tucker, who has been with the fire department for nearly four months, was fresh off of applying a back-of-the-leg maneuver that could be helpful in deterring injury to himself or others when he gave his stamp of approval to the training.

“It is very helpful, and we are learning things that can help prevent us or others we are trying to help from getting injured,” he said.

Watching for PTSD

If you notice a change in an individual’s behavior or mood, be on the lookout for these five warning signs of PTSD:

1. Isolation from others

2. Disturbed sleep

3. Increased irritability

4. Decreased interest in significant activities

5. Self-destructive or reckless behavior

Source: International Association of Fire fighters

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