Bulkley Valley Critical Incident Response Team enters 25th year

The team offers support for the first responders and community members after a tragic event

Some members of the BVCIRT team celebrate the team’s 25th anniversary in a group photo. (Submitted photo)

Some members of the BVCIRT team celebrate the team’s 25th anniversary in a group photo. (Submitted photo)

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Bulkley Valley Critical Incident Response Team (BVCIRT).

The BVCIRT is a team of volunteers working in conjunction with mental health professionals and provides peer-run interventions for first responders, fire department, police, ambulance service, search and rescue, hospital, as well as, community members who have been involved in or have witnessed a critical incident.

The goal of the CIRT program is to help individuals manage the impact of a critical incident, facilitate normal recovery processes, and restore adaptive function with minimal impact to themselves, their family, their workplace and their volunteer activities.

BVCIRT is the longest running community Critical Incident Stress Management Team in all of Canada and consists of 21 volunteers, five of whom are new members as of 2019.

The team has assisted hundreds of people in the Northwest since 1994 with incidents such as suicide; multi-casualty incident or accident; serious injury or sudden death of a colleague; a prolonged incident, especially when resulting in a loss; any incident involving children and events that have an unusually powerful impact on personnel.

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BVCIRT was born out of necessity. In 1994 a helicopter accident west of Houston claimed the lives of the Buchfink family who were well-known to the Smithers area. This incident and others that followed highlighted the need for supports for first responders and community members after a tragic event. To fill this need, the BVCIRT team was formed and since then has been providing services for first responders and their families when they are dealing with the various forms of stress related to a critical incident.

The volunteer-run team focuses on facilitating recovery and improving resilience and provides defusings, debriefings, crisis-management briefings, interventions, as well as post-action staff support for team members. These facilitations include doing peer-on-peer support with triage check-ins, exploring wellness and self-care, discussing typical symptoms and reactions to traumatic events, coping strategies and talking about support resources.

On Sept. 14, BVCIRT got together to celebrate 25 years of helping the community with a barbecue at long-time volunteer Deb Chatfield’s home. In attendance were many volunteers who have served over 20 years with the team, one of them being Bruce Ramsay, a world-renowned trainer and the team’s clinical supervisor who came from Vancouver for the event.

“Being part of this team has changed lives and I look forward to continuing to be a peer and helping others through some of the more difficult times they go through and to lighten some of the burden that can weigh them down,” said Karen Wilson, a volunteer with the team for over 20 years.

Volunteers and the team’s umbrella society, Northern Society for Domestic Peace, were recognized for their contributions over the years.

In support of the 25th anniversary, the team received some heart-warming letters from organizations they have helped over the years:

“The professionalism and efficiency demonstrated by the members of the Critical Incident Response Team is a testament to their thorough training,” said Aldea Lavallie, community relations manager for Pretivm. “The empathy and dedication shown by the team of volunteers proved invaluable as we navigated through a challenging time. The Bulkley Valley Critical Incident Team is an asset to the region and we at Pretivm cannot express our appreciation enough.”

Laurence Turney, Telkwa Fire Rescue chief was similarly complimentary.

“As a past client of BVCIRT, we have benefited significantly from the team’s timely response to our volunteers’ needs in times of crisis… BVCIRT has provided training and information to our members’ families, helping them in dealing with critical incidents and the stress caused by those incidents. I believe these services provided by BVCIRT have been instrumental in reducing the effects of stress on our members and their families. The volunteer members of Telkwa Fire Rescue, and their families, wish to thank BVCIRT and the volunteers that make up the team for their efforts over the past 25 years and continued success into the future.”

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Sgt. Darren Durnin, formerly acting detachment commander of the Smithers RCMP said: “Having experienced first-hand the negative impact critical incidents can have on persons directly involved with critical incidents, I place a lot of value on ensuring the officers involved, along with our support staff, have a mechanism in place to mitigate the negative impact.”

The organization has helped hundreds of people get through traumatic incidents for the last 25 years. Although they continue to do tremendous work, they do not have ongoing funding for the program. They rely heavily on grants and volunteers and are sometimes unable to meet all of their obligations if they don’t have enough available bodies to respond to traumatic events.

BVCIRT would love to thank all of their volunteers and community members who have provided ongoing support. Your work and dedication has been invaluable to the community and the team looks forward to continuing their work into the future.

Submitted article