As city council debates the 2024 budget today, one of the matters it will consider is a request from Ottawa Fire Services for additional mental-health support for firefighters, who are responding to increasing numbers of traumatic incidents.

The proposal, presented by the president of the Ottawa Professional Firefighters Association, David Andre, to the city’s Emergency Preparedness and Protective Services Committee on Dec. 1, includes the addition of a mental-health specialist.

“Investment in the form of a mental-health specialist will pay for itself,” he said. 

Andre said the specialist would help mitigate the challenges faced by firefighters and their exposure to traumatic incidents and physical injuries. 

“Increased staffing would help reduce all these exposures and have a positive impact on the members’ long-term health,” added Andre. 

Among other things, the opioid crisis has led to a substantial increase in call volume for city emergency services. Other Ontario cities, including Belleville, have also seen a spike in overdose-related calls.

A graph showing the increased number of opioid-related deaths in Ottawa. [Graphic courtesy Ottawa Public Health]

In 2023, the Ottawa Fire Services has so far responded to 28,633 incidents, a 19.9 per cent increase compared to 2021. 

When asked whether the current budget meets the needs of the Ottawa Fire Services members, Andre acknowledged that the department’s mental-health services is currently being dealt with by a training officer who is juggling other duties.

“Any help that we can get that will improve the mental health of our members and get them back to work, we would be happy with,” said Andre. 

During the committee budget meeting, Counc. Matthew Luloff agreed with Andre that the daily challenges first responders face require additional support.

In support of the proposal, Counc. David Hill, the committee’s vice-chair motioned to add one Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) to the Ottawa Fire Services dedicated to mental-health intervention support.

“It is important to me to see that we are making sure we have the right investments for those folks who are out protecting us and taking care of our residents,” said Hill.