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St. Albert firefighter wins mental health award

Pashko says he’s “just a small spoke in a turning wheel”
PEER SUPPORTER — St. Albert Fire Services acting lieutenant Vince Pashko, shown here, received a Champions of Mental Health Award from the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment last February. He was recognized for his efforts to promote peer support as a way to prevent mental health injuries. CITY OF ST. ALBERT/Photo

A St. Albert firefighter has received a national award for being a champion of mental health.

St. Albert firefighter and paramedic Vince Pashko was one of 20 recipients of the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment’s 2023 Champions of Mental Health Award in an online ceremony last February. The City of St. Albert put out a notice on the award March 26.

Established in 2021, the award recognizes emergency personnel (such as police, paramedics, and firefighters) who have a positive impact on the mental health of their community and work to reduce the stigma around mental health. Some 200 people were considered for this year’s awards.

Pashko was a founding member of the St. Albert Fire Services’ peer support team in 2017 and spearheaded the department’s reintegration team, which helps injured firefighters ease back into work, the City of St. Albert reports. He became the city’s mental health co-ordinator in 2023.

Pashko is a respected firefighter and paramedic whose frontline experience helps emergency responders deal with the challenges they face, said City of St. Albert emergency medical services co-ordinator Fred Hollands, who nominated Pashko for this award.

“He just works really hard to ensure folks that reach out to him feel supported.”

Team effort, says Pashko

Pashko said he started out working for the Peace Regional EMS in 2001 and joined St. Albert Fire in 2008 after a few years with the City of Edmonton. In 2017, he joined the fire department’s peer support network.

Police, fire, and medical crews regularly encounter fires, injuries, violence, and other traumatic events on the job, Pashko explained. While emergency crews were historically encouraged to tough it out and see these traumas as part of the job, such attitudes ignore the fact that emergency responders are still human beings vulnerable to injury.

“The empathy that makes us good at the work we do also makes us more susceptible to injury,” Pashko said

Pashko said it was vital for emergency crews to talk about traumatic events they experience soon after they happen to help process emotions and prevent mental injury. Peer support is a key part of this process, as research suggests safety crews are often more comfortable confiding with people who have shared their experiences.

“There’s a saying that we don’t get injured alone, so we certainly don’t recover alone, and I really do hold to that principle,” Pashko said.

A firefighter recovering from a physical or mental health injury might not be ready for a towering inferno on their first day back, Pashko explained. Reintegration teams work with therapists to ease recovering officers back into work based on their recovery needs. Pashko said St. Albert’s team has helped several emergency responders get back on the job since it started in 2022.

Pashko said he was reluctant to accept this award, as he was “very much just a small spoke in a turning wheel” of therapists and supporters. Hollands convinced him to accept the award (a certificate) as recognition of the department’s team effort.

Pashko said he hoped to expand the city’s peer support and reintegration teams and was working on new plans to support physical fitness. He encouraged anyone struggling with mental health to reach out to their peers for help.

“Reaching out for support is far from being weak. It’s probably one’s greatest strength.”

Biographies of this year’s Champions of Mental Health winners can be found at

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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