Dawn Dalke is a current active volunteer firefighter with the County of Grande Prairie and this is her story.
My name is Dawn Dalke. I have been a volunteer firefighter for four years. I joined the service because I have a passion for helping people. I lost a house and everything I owned to fire as a child, and it turned my whole life upside down. This was the only place I had in my childhood that we lived for any amount of time. It was the only stable place we had ever lived. From there, our lives spiraled into chaos.
Emergencies do not care about time, place, or person, age. Tones go off in the middle of the night, Christmas day, during your child’s birthday party. Accidents can happen to anyone, at any time. We are always ready to be there, but that takes a toll on me. There are days when it feels like too much to be always ready. There are times where it’s just too exhausting, and I do not want to get out of bed. I have days where I just want to say no, and not be on call. No scene is ever the same, and at times I do not know what I am walking into, and what hazards or tragedies I will face. This can be incredibly stressful, and I really feel the pressure of it at times.
„Unlike other forms of psychological disorders, the core issue in trauma is reality.“
Throwing on that turn-out gear has always given me a sense of security, but after our apparatus was involved in a collision it was a great reminder that we are still human and susceptible to injury, the same as the customers we are going to help. It reminds me that safety needs to be at the forefront of everything we do so that I bring my crew home safe to their families. Being responsible for delegating the team during high hazard events can be incredibly stressful. Every decision must be the right one. Our lives depend on it.
I find that the more I respond to events that happen, and the older my own children get, the more I see the ‘what ifs’ in my personal life. When the roads are bad, I avoid traveling with my children because the images of a terrible accident are imprinted in my brain. I think “what if that happened to me and my kids?” When I am working at my full-time job, and I work off a ladder I think of the person that did not have a spotter at the bottom and fell, breaking their leg. My oldest daughter goes out for a side-by-side ride with her friends, and I think of the child we landed stars for after they were ejected from one. When my family or friends are traveling in my area and I get called to a motor vehicle collision my heart sinks into my stomach and I feel sick as I rush to the station and gear up. In this way, the calls we respond to can haunt me… I never leave home or let my family leave without telling them how much I love them. I have seen too many people lose the chance to ever say it to their loved ones again.
I have Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Chronic Clinical Depression, associated with a form of PTSD from when I was a child. I have spent many years learning to manage my condition. I have seen therapists, psychologists, doctors. I have been medicated and learned to cope without medication. For a long time, I was scared to ask for help. I thought it would make people see me as unfit or incapable. That I would lose my job or position. The most important thing I have learned is that it’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to ask for help. I have had a hard time coping with what I have seen on calls and gotten help. I have also learned that keeping my body strong helps me to keep my mind strong. Talking to the crew, debriefing, working out, training hard, and building bonds with the team have all contributed to keeping me mentally well. Being in the service and helping someone through the worst day they have ever had keeps me strong. It keeps me responding. And it keeps me putting my mental health first. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself and the support and sense of family and support that comes with it.