Clenched fists, bloodied clothes covered in soot, a teddy bear discarded in the back of an ambulance. Leduc firefighter Daniel Sundahl says reliving the most anguished moments of his job through art has given him the strength to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder. And now his artwork will help others suffering from psychological trauma. Sundahl said working as a first responder for more than 15 years has taken its toll, and some work calls continue to haunt him. He turned to art last year as a way to confront his feelings. “I recreate the stressful scenes and it kind of purges them out of my head,” he said. Although Sundahl finds solace in his art, he wants to help others suffering from PTSD who may not be able to find a healthy outlet. “For all of us, we have certain calls that don’t leave our brains, and for some of us, that can be deadly.” Sundahl will soon publish his work in a new book, Portraits of Emergency. Proceeds from the collection will help fund a new scholarship so first responders from around the world can learn how to cope with what they’ve experienced on the job.
Beneficiaries of the scholarship will attend an annual congress conference for critical stress incident management. The foundation, which oversees the conference, trains people and organizations in mental health, suicide prevention and processes that can help prevent PTSD. Although reluctant at first, Sundahl now shares all of his work with the public. He said the positive response, especially from his colleagues, has been overwhelming. “I was really scared what my peers were going to think because paramedics, firefighters, we’re heroes and we’re supposed to be indestructible,” Sundahl said. “But that’s not the case; there’s a lot of damage being done.” In addition to his work on the scholarship fund, Sundahl is helping to fundraise for children undergoing cancer treatment. He plans on harnessing the natural rivalry between fire and police to sell charity calendars featuring his artwork. One hundred per cent of the proceeds will go to the Kids with Cancer Society. For more information on Sundahl’s fundraising efforts, visit his website.