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Mental health support needed

The deputy fire chief of the Hornby Island Fire Department hopes a recent violent attack during a call will bring attention to mental health and support needed in small communities.

Last week, Doug Chinnery and another member of the volunteer fire service, responded to a call of a backyard burn and were chased off the property by a man throwing an axe.

Chinnery said when he attended the call, he was aware the individual whose property he was visiting was someone who had a history of mental health issues and violence, but wasn't prepared for what would come next.

RCMP made their way to the island and told Chinnery — who took his private vehicle to the call — his car had been wired with improvised explosive devices comprised of gas cans and propane cylinders by the individual.

"They weren't high-tech, but he had hooked them up to a car battery. When I picked up the car in the morning, he had spray-painted the car," he explained.

Although Chinnery said there is no specific training in the fire department to work with mental health situations, he noted he is prepared for a variety of incidents.

"In the fire service during training we are being constantly drilled to read the scene 360 degrees and have situational awareness; it's always about making sure the scene is safe. This was a case of where rubber meets the road," Chinnery noted.

"As a volunteer firefighter, we do it because we want to help."

Chinnery said the incident brings attention to the limited amount of infrastructure for those suffering with mental health issues on Hornby Island and other isolated areas.

"I hope this might start a discussion about it, and how we could diffuse a situation before it gets to that level (last week). In a remote place … there really isn't anything in place for someone to be monitored by professionals."

He encourages the community to come together and members to take a role in looking after their neighbours.

"The community can really come together and play a factor to step in; it's important to know you don't have to immediately call the Mounties if you're stepping in early enough, it's about knowing who to call such as health-care professionals, a nurse, a clinic or RCMP Victim Services."

Chinnery said while he has suffered a longer-than-usual stress reaction to the incident, he credits his critical incident debrief and counselling services with his recovery.

"Whether it's professional or volunteer first responder, it's a really valuable thing to do. There are really knowledgable people who are willing to help, and I'm hoping my experience sets a tone for informal leadership — there's no shame."

RCMP removed the suspect from the Island and he was admitted to St. Joseph's General Hospital in Comox.

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