A Smithers society is helping first responders in the Bulkley Valley cope with stress and serious incidents.
The Bulkley Valley Critical Incident Response Team (BVCIRT) is a group of trained volunteers who provide support to many individuals in the Bulkley Valley who are suffering or may suffer psychological or emotional distress.
The team works with mental health professionals and provides peer-run interventions for first responders including fire departments, police, hospital and ambulance services, search and rescue, and community members who have been involved in or have witnessed a critical incident.
They also provide public and workplace information and education, as well as referrals to appropriate local resources whenever required.
Richard Grice, a member of the BVCIRT, says it is essential to understand exactly what a critical incident is and how it affects the brain.
“It’s normally known as the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response, which we all have,” he said. “When it gets triggered by an event that the brain perceives as life-threatening, the brain pumps all sorts of endorphins, neurotransmitters into the body. This is where PTSD comes from, if trauma is left unresolved.”
In 1994, a helicopter crash near Houston claimed the lives of the Buchfink family who were well-known in the Smithers area. This tragedy heavily impacted the community, and highlighted a need for a strong support system. The BVCIRT was formed as a result and has been helping the community ever since.
The BVCIRT is now the longest-running community critical incident stress management team in all of Canada. Over the past 29 years, the team has assisted hundreds of people in northern B.C. with incidents such as suicide, multi-casualty incidents or crashes, serious injury or sudden death and much more.
According to the team, people cope with critical incidents in a variety of ways. Common responses to an abnormal event are physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural. The BVCIRT helps people deal with incident stress by helping them recognize where it’s coming from and which responses are impacted the most.
Avoiding alcohol and drugs, eating well and exercising, and avoiding isolation are other key factors when it comes to dealing with incident stress. Getting help from friends and family and focusing on activities that promote healing also help in the recovery process.
“It’s those after-effects from a critical event that the BVCIRT team addresses during an intervention,” Grice said.