Paul Semeniuk

Top 40 Under 40 2018

Photography Aaron Pedersen

Age: 35

Job Title: Firefighter, City of Edmonton; Co-founder, Mental Rescue Society; Director of Operations, True Link Safety Inc.; Owner, Patio Frontiers Inc.

Why He’s Top 40: He’s ensuring that first responders have access to mental-health initiatives.

When Paul Semeniuk was 18 years old, he woke up from a car accident strapped to a stretcher. Looking down, he had a firefighter’s gloves on, saving his fingers from the biting winter wind.

That act of kindness prompted him to pursue firefighting a few years later. But Semeniuk says few people are prepared for the situations first responders witness daily, himself included. “You become a first responder and the trauma you face daily can make you forget about all the little things in daily life that are necessary for your happiness.”

When his fire department started a peer-support team, he was one of many to sign up. Now, whenever a responder has a particularly bad day, Semeniuk is just a phone call away to help that person debrief and possibly counteract any PTSD he or she might face over the following weeks.

That work, along with his own mental-health struggles, led him to found the Mental Rescue Society, a charity that aims to provide free mental health first-aid training to the public. Participants learn how to recognize and address signs of depression and anxiety, providing a better support system throughout the community. Across Canada, nearly 500,000 people have been trained, including more than 75 per cent of first responders in Edmonton.

Semeniuk says he’s seeing the increase in quality of life for first responders first-hand and it encourages him to work even harder. “It’s just about finding opportunities and situations where people are in need, without wanting a thank you back,” he says. “Just like the firefighter that helped me.”

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