Members of the RCMP's Emergency Response Teams (ERT) train to go into high-risk situations with the knowledge, skill and ability to diffuse danger, save lives and look out for their colleagues.
Sgt. Mike Ballard, National ERT training coordinator, says they're also carrying something else.
"Confidence in their ability and comfort in the environment are critical to performance," says Ballard. "If an ERT member lacks confidence in themselves, or their team, then they will not be able to perform the required task effectively."
Over the past 40 years, the ERT Program has grown to include 16 teams based across much of the country. Most of the teams consist of both full-time and part-time members.
After passing physical and psychological tests, newcomers spend two months working to maintain and improve their fitness and advance their skills in areas such as specialized weapons, rappelling, close-quarter combat, searches and tactics to resolve extremely tense and risky situations.
For new ERT recruits, Ballard says those skills are taught and practised until they become second nature.
"There's extensive use of scenario-based training where the candidates will apply their skills in stressful encounters using realistic training environments and actors," he says. "This helps them to accept that they might experience violent encounters but it will be something they have physically and mentally been prepared for."
Got your back
ERT members spend a lot of time together. They acknowledge their job, training and some outside-of-work social activities create a close-knit group of people who always look out for one another.
Sgt. Paul Desjardins, who provides operational support to the Ottawa-based National Division ERT, says that means officers are often aware when a colleague has a problem.
"We spend a lot of time together. If someone's not feeling right or acting right, we'll notice it and talk about it," he says, while noting the same connection exists among the part-time ERTs across the country.
"But the challenging part is when there's stuff going on at home, which we don't know about or recognize right away."
Sgt. Jamie McGowan, the RCMP's national ERT co-ordinator, says taking care of the mental and physical well-being of members is crucial to ERT's success.
An ERT veteran, McGowan says members can face dramatic and life-altering situations at a moment's notice. He also says ERT part-timers face unique challenges because at one moment they could be at a road-side stop and then hours later called to an ERT deployment.
"We ask a lot of everyone on the team," says McGowan. "That's why we need to do as much as we can to ensure the mental and physical health of our members — because of the tasks we ask them to do."
Mental-health workshops are already mandatory for all RCMP employees and there are many resources in the organization.
These resources include programs such as the Support for Operational Stress Injury Program, Member Workplace Services Program, workplace accommodation, occupational health and safety officers, peer-to-peer system, informal conflict management, harassment advisors and others.
Anne-Marie Gauthier is the health and wellness strategic planner at National Division in Ottawa.
She says it's difficult to determine how widely those programs are tapped into in part because of privacy issues. But it's her understanding those resources are used by all employees.
Gauthier adds it's vital to keep employees informed about the programs.
"It is really important for us to keep promoting those resources to make sure all employees know that they exist," she says. "It's even better to seek the help needed as soon as possible to promote a quicker return to health."
Desjardins admits that officers with ERT may have been reluctant to avail themselves of such services but attitudes are changing.
"Years ago it was different. But now, members are more willing to talk," says Desjardins.