Each day, police officers, paramedics, firefighters and military personnel witness unthinkable tragedy and suffering, and those images can leave lasting and haunting memories.

“During sleep I will sit upright. I will have conversations, I will shout things, and unfortunately, I will lash out at times, so I’ll be fighting,” explains Andrew DeShaw, a social worker in the corrections field.

DeShaw is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and, as a result of his personal and professional experiences, he lives with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“You know, it’s really tough to call in sick because you have PTSD because you’re going to have PTSD for life,” says DeShaw.  “You’re going to have to deal with the symptoms.”

And DeShaw is far from alone.

Vince Savoia’s own experience with PTSD prompted him to found the Tema Conter Memorial Trust.

Tema Conter was brutally murdered in 1998 and Savoia, a former paramedic, answered the call. He was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the horror he witnessed.

“He got a hold of our family and said he’d like to do something for Tema and we basically said as a family, well, you can certainly use the name, but then you’re stuck with the family,” says Dr. Howard Conter, the victim’s brother.

“So, since that time, we’ve had a partnership between the Tema Conter family and Vince Savoia and all the incredible paramedics in Toronto who are responsible for starting the foundation.”

The organization offers annual presentations to frontline workers about recognizing the signs of PTSD. It also offers courses for the general public to help them better understand the condition.

“And we’re trying to work with all the schools, with all the paramedical schools, police, fire, etc. so these kids understand what critical incident stress is, and what PTSD is before they’re out on the street,” says Conter, who also sits on the board of directors for the Tema Conter Memorial Trust.

Last week, the organization launched the Heroes are Human Tour. Stopping in 48 cities and towns across Canada, the tour aims to reach as many first responders as possible.

“Inviting paramedics and all our first-line workers in all these different cities to come, hear speakers, have a chance to chat, understand that yeah, we do get it, we get it that PTSD and CIS are major, major problems and we’re working very hard to bring more awareness and more education and that’s really the backbone of what our foundation can do,” says Conter.

DeShaw will be speaking in Halifax Monday evening as part of the Heroes are Human Tour.

“The title of the talk is ‘If You Fall Down Six Times, Get up Seven,’ so to me, that comes from martial arts and a sense of bouncing back and when you get thrown down, instead of giving up, you get back up and try the technique again,” explains DeShaw.

The event takes place at the Cunard Centre from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The tour will stop in Yarmouth Tuesday before heading to New Brunswick later in the week.