About a year ago, I had the immense pleasure of attending the Tema Conter Annual Tribute Gala. The Tema Conter Memorial Trust, the organization who arranges the gala every year, raises awareness for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among police officers and other emergency responders, as well as honours those who have contributed to their field and deserve recognition from their peers for doing such great things.
Enrico Colantoni, one of the lead actors on CTV’s Flashpoint, has been their spokesperson since last year, and he has been their spokesperson for a few reasons. Sure, he plays a police office on television, but that’s not his motivation for what he does. We had a short chat at the event, and he reinforced the reason people like EMS, Fire, Police, and other first responders do what they do, and that reason is that they get up in the morning and they choose to put those boots on because that’s what they were meant to do.
Enrico: “I don’t know what possesses people like that to put their lives on the line every day. I didn’t wake up wanting to be a soldier. But these guys said, you know what, I want to fight for my country. For what? Not for a Rolls Royce. Not for a billion dollars. For honour! They wake up wanting to do that!”
Other notable guests in attendance were Hugh Dillon, David Paetkau, and Michael Cram, all from Flashpoint, in addition to Flashpoint’s creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern, as well as Brian Melo of Canadian Idol and George Stroumboulopoulos of The Hour. Quite a long list of dignitaries, but probably the most important person at the event was Vince Savoia. You probably don’t know his name. He’s not on a TV show, hasn’t written a top-40s single, or started a news-interview show. But he lives this organization more than anyone else because he started it all.
Vince Savoia is a former Paramedic with his own tragic story of life and loss that sparked his journey to create support for first responders dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Critical Incident Stress (CIS). I had the honour and privilege to speak with him about this year’s gala and the success it seemed to have with the silent auction format and attendance numbers that seemed to be on the rise.
Eggplante!: How do you feel about the success of this year’s gala?
Vince Savoia: We’re quite happy with the results. The idea is to get the awareness out. It’s Enrico [Colantoni] that has permitted us to have people like Strombo. Having him affiliated with us has raised the bar. Our volunteers step up to the plate and the gala committee has worked all year round to put this on.
E!: And it shows, I think. It’s clearly gotten bigger just from an attendance perspective over last year. How do you gauge how many people are actually reached with the message you’re trying to put out there?
VS: How do we gauge? You know, it’s very difficult to gauge that. We’re very actively involved in research. We’ve funded Violence Towards Paramedics research with St. Michael’s Hospital here in Toronto and we’re actively involved in education. We work with the National Organization for Victims Assistance, NOVA, and awareness is getting out there. We need to break down the stigma.
E!: Well, your tagline, if you will, is “Because heroes are human”, and it’s very fitting given the nature of the work that these people do.
VS: Absolutely, but there’s not a man or woman in uniform who considers themselves a hero. It’s their job. It’s what they do. I would call it a calling.
E!: You know, when I talk with Enrico, that’s what he describes it as also, so I think there’s some congruency there. Do you find that interfacing with emergency services offices and police stations helps with getting the word out there?
VS: A lot of police units have their own feelings about finding outside help and spreading awareness. Some services are extremely supportive, while others are not willing to let us in there. They’ve got their own views on things, and that’s fine. Again, it’s about breaking down the stigma.
E!: Thank you very much for taking the time to discuss the Tema Conter Memorial Trust and I wish you all the success in the future for the organization and getting the word out there!
A lot of what we’ve seen on television in police shows is from the point of view of the victim and the criminal. The only show that comes to mind that delves even a little bit into the psyche of the people fighting the crime is Flashpoint. I’m proud to say that show is Canadian, and I’m proud to say that I attended this event to bring even our little bit of awareness to the cause.
One of the wonderful things about the night is the way that people interact when they’re in this environment. We see people that are truly compassionate, truly motivated to change something, and help others where they can. And you know, while this feeling leaves most rooms after a few hours or days, this group of people – first responders and emergency personnel – keeps that idea as motivation for what they do. And we could all use a little more of that.