Mental Health

Tanya Boudreau

Web Exclusives

When Dan Heney, Regional Fire Chief for the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA), in Bonnyville, Alberta (Canada), was approached by a fire department captain with respect to a couple of the station chiefs struggling because of a call that involved a side-by-side crash resulting in the fatality of a 14-year-old girl, he began developing mental health initiatives at the workplace.

After all, Heney has a lot of experience working in emergency services. Since 1999, he’s worked for the Bonnyville Fire Department/BRFA Bonnyville Station, Bonnyville Municipal Ambulance, the Alberta Fire Training School/fire etc./Lakeland College, the Prince Albert Fire Department, and the Calgary Fire Department.

“As the Regional Deputy, my primary role was leadership of the Fire Division of the BRFA so when the question came, ‘Who takes care of the station chiefs after they work so hard taking care of their members,’ the answer was me,” Heney said. “I spent a number of hours talking with them, and it became clear that the BRFA needed a much more formalized mental health program.”

Heney approached the previous regional fire chief (Jay Melvin) in September 2019 with a proposal for the implementation of a program, and it launched officially in December 2019.

One of the initiatives he took was driving leadership development for supervisors, managers, and new station chiefs within the BRFA. Heney explained, “Leaders should always be learning, and I’ve seen that highlighted by both the fire training school in Vermilion while I was there and in the Calgary Fire Department. The CEO of the Alberta Fire Training School was a big believer of the ‘learning organization’ philosophy, and it was not uncommon for a manager in the Calgary Fire Department to buy their team leadership-based books to read.”

The funds for the materials have come from both the mental health program and the training budget. The books are not distributed every month; they are given out to a specific group when Heney sees a gap or a need for some training and development. 

Heney sets a hard date for completion and a book report day, which gives the chance to ensure everyone has read the book and that they picked up on the messages he was hoping they would come away with. 

He asks the following questions of each person: 

  1. What did you like about the book? 
  2. What didn’t you like about the book? 
  3. What was pertinent to your role? 
  4. What wasn’t really pertinent to your role? 
  5. What are some of your takeaways from an organizational perspective? 
  6. What are some of your takeaways from a personal perspective? 
  7. What important lessons did you pick up? 
  8. What is at least one thing you plan to try and implement in the near future?

Heney then captures their answers as best as he can to further the learning process for future discussions. As of December 2021, Heney has distributed six books (see list at the end of the article). Some books were given to new managers, supervisors, station chiefs, the mental health program steering committee, and the BRFA leadership team. In addition, one book was given to every member of the department. 

Feedback has been positive. Books have been passed around and requested from members within BRFA, and Heney has noticed people taking the material and starting to implement it.

“I’ve seen people start to question their previous assumptions, and I’ve seen them start to see a bigger picture of our organization,” Heney said.  

But the initiatives haven’t been focused on books alone. Some classes and courses that Heney and the BRFA have provided for staff include Trauma Informed Leadership, The Resilient Responder, Mental Health First Aid, Resilient Minds, and Trauma-Informed Care for People with Suicide Ideation. 

Heney has plans to start a major culture change initiative closer to the end of 2022 and have it carry on over the course of a year.

“Eventually, I’d like to see a more formalized approach to leadership development within the organization,” he said.

Some of the titles Heney has distributed include:  




From Buddy to Boss: Effective Fire Service Leadership (2nd Edition)

Chase Sargent

new lieutenants, captains, station chiefs, supervisors, and managers 

Bulletproof Spirit: The First Responder’s Essential Resource for Protecting and Healing Mind and Heart

Dan Willis and Donald Bostic

leadership team and members of the steering committee 

Not My Emergency: The Double Life of a Volunteer Firefighter

Ian McLaren

station chiefs

Counseling Insights: Practical Strategies for Helping Others with Anxiety, Trauma, Grief, and More

Vicki Enns

being evaluated by the steering committee 

A Little Book About Trauma Informed-Workplaces

Nathan Gerbrandt, Randy Grieser, et al.

started with the steering committee and then rolled out to every BRFA member

The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work

Randy Grieser, Eric Stutzman, et al.

next one for the leadership team as part of a future BRFA initiative