01/28/2015 11:36 EST | Updated 03/30/2015 05:59 EDT

Group draws attention to paramedic suicides, says professional help needed

EDMONTON - The Alberta Paramedic Association is demanding change after one of their own committed suicide earlier this week.

An unresponsive paramedic, a 16-year veteran on the job, was found by his partner at their EMS station earlier this week.

Efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful and he was taken to the Royal Alexandra hospital, where he later died.

Kendall Verhulst, vice-president of the paramedic association, says it's the latest in a string of suicides by first responders in Canada.

This month alone four paramedics in Canada have taken their lives; over the past eight months, 34 have died.

Verhulst says there’s no way to compare that to previous years because the statistics weren't recorded until recently.

"Even the statistics that are kept are unofficial and perhaps incomplete,” he says. “It’s part of a national campaign to raise awareness about PTSD and first responder suicide.”

A program called "Heroes are Human" is fighting to have first responders suffering from PTSD speak to a qualified professional when they need help. Right now first responders involved in critical events are counselled by their peers first.

“It’s led by people who have very limited training with respect to critical incident stress and psychological principle,” says Verhulst. “It’s being driven by people who may have been alongside the individual affected by these symptoms in the paramedic response.”

Verhulst says they don’t want to dissuade those needing help from talking to their peers, but want those who need help to be open to talking to a trained professional as well.

He says only being able to speak to a peer can create a barrier, because those counselling may be suffering from PTSD themselves.

He adds that many who need help may not seek it as the public perception of first responders are they are heroes and some feel weak asking for assistance.