By Allison Jones
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO _ Paramedic Marcel Martel never stopped hearing the screams of the parents of the little boy who died right in front of him 15 years ago.
After Martel responded to the call in 2001 of the boy being run over by a vehicle he took two weeks off work, but he said his manager couldn’t understand why. It was his job.
The paramedic from North Bay, Ont., has now been off work again since September, when he was finally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It was just a buildup over the years, to the point where I just had a breakdown and couldn’t work anymore,” he said.
Martel is now waiting for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to approve his claim. He hopes that provincial legislation introduced Thursday will help him and other first responder colleagues.
The law would create a presumption that PTSD in first responders is work related, removing the need for them to prove a causal link to the WSIB, and allowing them to get quicker and easier access to benefits and treatment.
It would cover police officers, firefighters, paramedics, workers in correctional institutions, dispatchers of police, firefighter and ambulance services, and First Nations emergency response teams.
“A lot of us are suffering,” Martel said Thursday after the labour minister introduced the legislation.
“We’re humans just like anybody else … You get to a point where you can’t function anymore.”
Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said he needs the help of first responders, who are at least twice as likely compared to the general population to suffer PTSD, to end the stigma.
“There are first responders who don’t step forward because they think their colleagues or their brother and sisters will think less of them, or they won’t see them as a trusted or as a reliable partner,” he told a room full of first responders on hand for the announcement.
“Let me tell you, it takes a very strong, sensible and courageous person to step forward and to get that help. I need everyone in this room to share this message with the people they work with,” he said, becoming choked up.
Employers of first responders will also be required under the legislation to create and provide the minister with PTSD prevention plans.
Flynn recognized the work on this issue of NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, who has been pushing for years for better supports for first responders through various attempts at legislation.
The PTSD presumption in the legislation would apply to new claims, as well as pending claims and claims in the process of being appealed, but DiNovo said she hoped in committee to also make it retroactive.
Aside from that, she said the legislation “is exactly what we wanted.”
“This is a workplace injury and that’s what we’ve been fighting for,” she said.
Martel said he hopes the legislation passes quickly so he can get the proper help. For now, he is on antidepressants and sleeping pills “to prevent these nightmares from happening.”