Calgary fire captain's death shines a light on first responders struggling with mental health

WATCH: On Friday, a funeral will be held for Calgary firefighter Barry Dawson after he took his own life. Tracy Nagai reports on why his fiancée is coming forward.

Members of the Calgary Fire Department and others are set to say goodbye to Capt. Barry “Bear” Dawson on Friday.

The 47-year-old’s sudden death is yet another example of the dire consequences for first responders struggling with mental health issues.

WATCH: The mental health of first responders

“He was so compassionate and understanding and always reaching out,” Melissa Murray, Dawson’s fiancee said.

“Barry was a very respected, well-liked person, nobody would have guessed because he was just so happy.”

Dawson was a musician and outdoor enthusiast who loved biking and skiing.

He also worked for the Calgary Fire Department for 17 years. Murray said Dawson would often talk to his crew following difficult calls.

“His approach with his colleagues and his patients was second to none,” she said.

“He told me he would pull over to the side of the road and he would say, ‘OK guys, let’s talk.'”

But in August, something shifted for the man known for his passion for life.

Dawson was facing a promotion and working on home renovations and Murray noticed him becoming more anxious and easily stressed. They decided to take a sunny vacation, but shortly after their arrival, Murray said something inside Dawson switched.

“He woke up, after going to bed completely normal, terrified and shaking and sweating and pacing, and his eyes looked horrified,” she said.

READ MORE: Deadly Highway 400 crash highlights emotional risks for first responders

Murray said he wouldn’t tell her what was wrong and that his mental health drastically declined over the course of four weeks.

“He stopped participating in any of his regular activities, he stopped playing music to the extent that he was just wearing his headphones with no music on.”

Murray — a paramedic — decided it was time that Dawson seek treatment from a doctor. But she said they would only treat him for insomnia and she couldn’t persuade Dawson to seek help from the Calgary Fire Department.

“There is still unfortunately a stigma and I wonder if he was hesitant to pursue the help that he needed for fear of how people would perceive their captain,” she said.

Barry took his own life on Nov. 11.

“I just wish that he could have held on, I wish that he knew that my love was stronger than his pain,” Murray said.

WATCH: Calgary firefighter Barry Dawson’s fiancée is coming forward in order to help others struggling with mental health issues.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise funds and spread awareness. Now, Murray is pleading for other first responders to come forward.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that there are many of our colleagues in EMS and police and fire that are struggling with mental health issues and anxiety. I just plead with them to set aside reputation and fears and the ‘suck it up factor,’ and get help,” she said.

“I have a whole lot of fight in me, that I wish I could have fought harder. I could have fought harder.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868  all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.


© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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