As part of the promotional campaign for third annual First Responders for PTSD fundraising golf tournament next month, a delegation came to Frontenac County Council on Wednesday morning (May 16). Frontenac Paramedic Services is helping to organise the event, and in addition to raising awareness the tournament raises money for K for Paws. K for Paws trains service dogs to help people dealing with various conditions, including autism, people with mobility issues, and people dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) The delegation included Elizabeth Bailey, founder and Executive Director of K for Paws, and Juliane Porritt, an OPP officer from the Napanee detachment.
Porritt has a personal experience with PTSD that she had never spoken about in public before.
Because the Frontenac News goes to press for the week on Tuesday night, before the county meeting takes place we made arrangements to talk to Officer Porritt over the phone on Tuesday night, giving her a chance to tell her story once before appearing in public. The following article is based on that interview.
Juliane joined the OPP in 2010. She was 39, and had worked in social services for 19 years before joining the OPP. She also had a home life. With her partner she had had 5 children, two older children from her first marriage and three from his.
Her social services background was very useful in her work with the Napanee detachment as police deal with many of the same issues as social workers face and she thrived with the department. She also volunteered for Northern Ontario placements in small fly in communities where the OPP and local nurses are the only first responders. She went up north for two week stints about twice a year.
She has faced trauma throughout her 8 years on the force.
"Over six years I had dealt with lots of incidents, car accidents, deaths, violence, I have witnesses many horrific things with the OPP,” she said.
But nothing had the impact on her that a single incident in April of 2016 did during one of her northern postings, while she was on the night shift
“We received a call about a child who had been assaulted by a sniffer [glue or gas sniffer] but you learn quickly in policing that calls rarely turn out to be about what you expect them to be about.”
This call also took an unexpected turn
When she got to the location of the incident she heard a young child, a 6 or 7 year old, screaming. She found a boy who was wrapped in a blanket, and when they pulled off the blanket they could see that he had third degree burns on 40% of his body and there was strong smell of gasoline. He had been doused in gasoline and set on fire. They brought the boy to the nursing station and stayed with him for three hours until the ORNGE helicopter arrived to take the boy to the hospital.
“He was awake the entire time,” Juliane recalls.
She later found at that the boy is alive and has made a recovery from his injuries.
From a policing standpoint, the call had been a success, Juliane received a 23310 for it, which is a positive note on her file for an exemplary job under pressure.
Aside from being a bit teary and not being able to get rid of the smell of gasoline, she thought she was fine, until she got home a few days later.
The first thing that happened was she forgot to fill her own vehicle with gas and had to walk home, “which is something I had never done” she recalls.
Then it all came apart.
“On my first day back on shift, I was working on the 401, and I went to a gas station to fill my cruiser. As soon as I started to fill the tank I went into a complete panic attack. They sent me home right away.”
It’s been about two years since then, time that included a long break from work, and a couple of two week stints in Toronto for intensive sessions at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) doing ‘wraparound’ therapy with s pyschologist, a psychiatrist and an occupational health therapist. That therapy, along with a lot of family support, help from the OPP, a dog named Thunder who was at one point the only reason she left the house because he needed to be walked, all made a difference. Julian has also had to learn to recognise and respond to specific stresses and deal with anger and fear, and it took trip after trip to the ghas station before she could do something as simple as fill up her car.
All of these ups and downs have led her to the point where she is able to share her story.
“This is something I will live with for the rest of my life, it won’t go away, that’s much I know,” she said.
She also said that her journey with PTSD has had some work benefits.
“I think I am more empathetic to people with mental health issues. I realise you don’t always have control over your behaviour.”
She also keeps volunteering to go up north twice a year, and on her own time she made contact with the boy who suffered the burns on that April day two years ago, and has visited him at his grandmothers house.
One of her motivations for going public with her story is to help the public to understand that the public “does not need a scare factor when facing people with PTSD and other mental conditions. With treatment and support, we contribute just like everyone else,” she said,
Her connection to K for Paws and the golf tournament came from a meeting Elizabeth Baily. That meeting led to Juliane offering to adopt and train a yellow lab, Scout, to be a service dog. Scout comes to work with her a couple of times a week and will stay with her until he is ready to be trained.
“It costs $20,000 to train a service dog and they are provided to people who need them for free so K for Paws needs all the fundraised dollars they can get,” she said.