In 42 years of firefighting, Courtenay Fire Chief Don Bardonnex has seen just about everything, from fatal fires to plane crashes to river rescues and deadly car collisions.
He thought he was dealing with the pressures of the job but an emergency call for a cardiac arrest in early 2017 proved otherwise.
“We had a very, very simple call. It was a normal call and I broke down at two o’clock in the morning on the way home from that call,” said Bardonnex.
He took most of 2017 off and got professional help for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) before successfully returning to work last fall.
But it was at Christmas when his wife surprised him with a gift of ongoing therapy.
“A Christmas card and a little package and the little package had two dog bones inside so it was pretty exciting,” said Bardonnex.
The gift was a German shepherd they picked up in March from a breeder in nearby Merville. They named him Gunny and he was a new friend that would provide ongoing therapy for Bardonnex.
“He’s here to help me with my PTSD,” said Bardonnex. “The biggest thing is to bring yourself back to today.”
And he knew it was working recently when he returned home from a fatal motorcycle crash near Ryan Road and Lerwick Road, the same intersection wherein 2008 he attended another fatal crash, one of his worst calls.
“That one really bothered me and this latest crash that we had there, there’s so many similarities to it and then when I opened my trauma kit and looked over top of it and saw the memorial cross there. Yeah, that just did me in,” he added.
He went home that day and it was Gunny who provided relief and an escape from what he’s just seen.
And the growing furry four legs of therapy helps the chief every day.
“Ok, let me put it this way, you’re sitting down and someone comes up and covers you in kisses it’s got to do nothing but good.”