Sunday, April 11, 2021

First responder support group launched

Brian Knowler

A peer-driven support group created by Barrie-based paramedic Natalie Harris in response to the prevalence of trauma-related injuries in the first response community, and adopted by Chatham resident Brian Knowler, hopes to take root in Chatham-Kent.

Knowler, a local police officer, author, and speaker on operational stress injuries in the first responder world is happy to see the first CK Wings of Change meeting rapidly approaching after months of planning.

“I first approached Natalie almost a year ago about her newly created peer support model. After getting to know her over that year, we created a partnership close enough that she felt comfortable giving me the reins to found a CK chapter of Wings of Change. Chatham-Kent is one of less than ten communities in Canada where this concept has been started so it really puts us on the forefront of community wide peer-support for trauma.”

“After battling my own PTS issues for five years, and after having the privilege of speaking to hundreds of people over the last year since my book was released, getting involved with Wings of Change seemed a natural fit,” Knowler said. “I’ve had many conversations with uniformed personnel from other emergency services and there is definitely a shared desire to offer peer support as a group across CK. Wings of Change was the ideal vehicle to make that happen.”

The meetings, which are peer-facilitated and driven, are meant for anyone in the following fields, professional or volunteer, whether they are diagnosed with an operational stress injury (OSI) or simply grappling with workplace stress:

– Military

– Law enforcement and corrections

– Fire

– Paramedic

– Healthcare providers

– Animal welfare workers

– Funeral services workers

There is no formal connection to any emergency service administration or management and no mental-health professionals at the meetings.

The meetings, which are anonymous, consist of topics related to living with OSIs like coping with triggers, family support, and dealing with financial pressures.

“I’m as anxious as anyone to share in the support. I know there are other uniformed brothers and sisters in CK who will benefit from what we’re hoping to start here,” Knowler stated.

The inaugural meeting of the CK Wings of Change is being held on March 7 at 6:30 p.m., at the offices of CMHA at 240 Grand Ave West, Chatham.

Meetings are going to be held on a monthly basis at first, with the frequency being increased as may be needed.

“March 7 actually lined up nicely with the ‘On the Other Side of Broken’ conference ) being organized by the CK Domestic Violence Community Coordinating Committee and Probation Officers Assoc of Ontario) which is also happening that day. I think March 7 is going to go down as a landmark day for PTS awareness and reduction in Chatham-Kent,” Knowler said.

For more information, Knowler can be contacted at

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