L-R: Cpl. Denise Roussel, Frank Dicker, Nunatsiavut President Sarah Leo, Minister
Nick McGrath, Nancy (Tuglavina) Barfoot, Sgt. Jagdeep Soin, Insp. Pat Cahill. (Frank Dicker was recognized for a separate incident where he rendered assistance to a child in danger of drowning).
An RCMP officer set on fire after responding to a domestic dispute says the force needs to do more to help officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I don’t think we take it seriously. That’s my experience having lived it for the past 10 or 12 years,” Sgt. Jagdeep Soin said during a recent telephone interview from his home in Ottawa. “Members are stigmatized… I went through the experience myself… I live it every day. I’d like for senior management to address this issue.”
Soin and his partner Cpl. Denise Roussel were presented with the Newfoundland and Labrador Bravery Award on Sept. 11 during a ceremony held in Hopedale, Labrador – the community on the northern coast of Labrador where both officers were burned while risking their lives to save others.
The horror unfolded on Feb. 9, 2001 when Soin and Roussel – both constables at the time – responded to the call on snowmobile. The only two officers in the community, they were told the suspect likely had a gun and that there were two young children in the home.
“The father had the two kids. One was a three-year-old and one was a six-month-old. He had been drinking… and he was refusing to let other family members get the kids out of the house.”
The officers entered the small two-storey home – having no idea what they were about to face. “I yelled out, ‘Edward, I just want to make sure the kids are okay.’ I could hear the kids crying. The TV was on the floor, it was all a mess inside. We saw him. He was standing on top of the steps with a jerry (gas) can. He says, ‘Get the f–- out of my house before I burn you guys’… I was standing right next to the woodstove and he threw the gas at us. Both Denise and I caught on fire. There was a big explosion. I still can’t remember how I ever got to the door.” Soin did manage to reach the door, only to find that the pressure from the explosion had caused a vacuum and it was impossible to open the door. The officers were choking on the smoke and fire.
“Denise was telling me to open the door. I said, ‘I can’t! I can’t!…’ You could see the flames outside. I thought, I’m never going to see my son again.” Soin said his partner had the presence of mind to use her pistol to break a nearby window and he was then able to get the door opened.
He ran out of the home and rolled in the snow to put out the flames. “I noticed Denise wasn’t behind me. I went around the house and she was almost out of the window that she had smashed. Her hand was cut pretty bad. We were both in shock.”
Roussel went to a nearby home to call the RCMP’s Happy Valley-Goose Bay detachment to report what was unfolding.
Knowing the adult and children were still in the house, Soin asked a woman at the scene (Nancy Tuglavina Barfoot) to get him a ladder. “We (Soin and the woman who got the ladder) climbed up (on the ledge). I knew where the kids’ bedroom was. I was in the process of breaking the window with my pistol when somebody yelled out that he threw the kids out (from a window).”
The children were taken to the nursing clinic.
After getting down from the ladder, Soin recalls standing by his snowmobile. He was still shaking from the trauma when the man who set the fire walked toward him.
“He was like a zombie. He was all black. Charred. There was a trail of blood on the snow. I didn’t know what to think. This man had just tried to kill us.”
Soin put the man on the back of his snowmobile and took him to the clinic. “I carried him in my arms into the clinic… he was very badly burned. You could see the bones. I laid him down. The nurses tried to find veins to give him some pain medication.
They had a hard time finding (a vein) because most of the skin was gone.” Soin’s voice is filled with emotion when he talks about what happened next. As in many small communities, he knew the man and knew that his actions were fuelled by alcohol.
“He said, ‘Jag, can you hold my hand and pray with me?’ He said, ‘I shook hands with the devil. I hurt my kids.’”
Soin said while the man had just tried to kill him and his partner and although he was drunk and on fire, he tried to save his children’s lives by jumping out the window with them.
For that, Soin was grateful.
“I held his hand and we prayed.”
As the two clinic nurses were busy looking after the man who’d set the fire, they asked Soin to hold the three-year-old. The boy, who’d been badly burned and cried constantly, was the same age as Soin’s son.
“Those were the longest 45 minutes of my life. Watching this poor child suffer, the constant smell of burning flesh.”
Soin’s wife Maxine is a community health nurse in Hopedale – she wasn’t there at the time.
She was pregnant with their second child. Their three-year-old was with a babysitter.
“She called me all in a panic. She’d heard the news. I told her I was okay.”
Both Soin and his partner were treated for their injuries.
The man who set the fire died before being medevaced to hospital.
First return visit
The awards ceremony in September was the first time Soin and his wife had returned to Hopedale since his posting ended over a decade ago.
The best thing, for both himself and his life, was to see the children had healed and were doing well, he says.
“Awards are okay but people’s lives are more important… It was nice to see the kids are growing up and doing okay. That was a relief for me.”
Soin, Roussel and Tuglavina received the award for their lifesaving efforts. Roussel is now serving in New Brunswick.
Soin – who has been with the RCMP for over 20 years – is serving in Ottawa.
Soin said while people often talk about how good officers have it when they serve in small communities, policing in rural areas often means a lack of resources.
“We don’t have the SWAT team. We don’t have the backup. We don’t have doctors just in case something bad happens. It’s very highrisk policing.”
The fire wasn’t the only traumatic incident Soin faced during his three years policing in Hopedale and other northern Labrador communities.
There was also a double drowning and a plane crash that killed the pilot and co-pilot. Soin has been diagnosed with severe posttraumatic stress disorder. He was on leave from his job for over a year, returning about six months ago.
“You’ve just got to cope with it. You never get rid of it.”
Blue Line Magazine Nov 2013