Walk the Talk – First Responder Peer Support


The book everyone has been asking for. Developed by using over 55 years of experience and knowledge by two titans in the peer support and trauma management world and best-known speakers on police trauma survival.

Staff Sergeant (ret’d.) Brad McKay co-founder of the York Regional Quad-Services Critical Incident and Peer Support Teams and Staff Sergeant (ret’d.) Sylvio (Syd) Gravel, M.O.M., co-founder of the Ottawa Police Service’s Robin’s Blue Circle – an informal post shooting trauma peer team in existence since 1988. Both have been giving lectures and speeches on peer support and trauma management for years and now they have put all of their knowledge in:

“Walk the Talk – First Responder Peer Support”

“Walk the Talk”, introduces all the phenomenal “Boots-on-the-Ground” information that every organizational leader needs to have at their finger tips to go from having nothing or very little in place to reaching the gold standard in Peer and Trauma Support Systems within the workplace.


It addresses:

    • Protecting Society’s Protectors
    • Assessing an Organization’s Awareness
    • Getting Management Onside
    • Organizational Pre-Hiring Preparedness
    • Organizational Support for Families
    • Middle Management Leadership
    • Developing CISM Teams
    • Developing Peer Support Teams
    • Staffing CISM and Peer Support Teams
    • Organizational Training for CISM and Peer Support Teams
    • How a CISM and Peer Support System Can Work
    • Walking the Talk – The Last Word
    • Survivor’s Testimonials

“Walk the Talk– First Responder Per Support – A Boots-on-the-Ground Peer & Trauma Support Systems Guide” is in print and electronic formats and available through all book stores on-line and retail.  Released December 2016.Look for it using the title or: ISBN 978-0-9881316-6-8 (paperback). –ISBN 978-0-9881316-7-5 (electronic)



Deanna Lennox, Founder of the War Horse Foundation….”With all the “talk” around PTSD and other injuries that First Responders struggle with, it is incredibly refreshing to have guidelines to assist in implementing the part that is so desperately needed…action!  What I respect most about Syd and Brad is that they’ve been in the trenches and have done the work required to learn how to manage their own injuries.  It’s easy to tell other people what they should do, but again, in staying true to the theme of their work they are living examples of how these types of injuries do not have to be a life sentence.  This book is both practical and inspirational.  It’s definitely a must read.”

Linda Antoniazzi, Executive Director at The Recovery Centre; …..”Read the book and it is one of the most comprehensive overviews of effective peer support that I have read in a long time.”

Anonymous via e-mail: ….“I love your book.  I took the CISM course last week and your book puts it all together.  Your first page made me cry.  If I could tell an employer what I needed them to hear it would be what you and Brad had the guts to publish”

By Heidi Garrison on Jan. 22 2017,…“As a Detective Sergeant who fell prey to Post Traumatic Stress, I can honestly say Walk the Talk is a must read for all First Responder Organizations; for all its employees of all ranks, including the unions or associations that protect the safety of all its employees.Walk the Talk is a comprehensive and concise guidebook on why and how organizations can and should implement Peer Support Programs. The mental health of an organization’s employees should be a top priority – without it, the organization can not thrive.In Walk the Talk, a proactive approach and early intervention are just the tip of the Peer Support iceberg. Brad Mckay and Sylvio Gravel have faced tragedy and trauma, they have “been there; done that”, and we are the benefactors of their lived and shared experiences. These two men truly know the meaning of what it means to walk the talk and now their experiences, knowledge and skills, are in a user friendly book, where we can all learn and practice what it means to walk the talk.It is not our words that will remain our legacy; but rather our deeds.”

By Pamela Machado, Barrister & Solicitor, on Jan. 23 2017,…..”As counsel working in the field of PTSD within Policing, I am grateful for the excellent work of Syd Gravel and Brad McKay. An educational piece that will undoubtedly change the context within which PTSD is considered in the professional career of policing. Thank you.”

5.0 out of 5 stars  Excellent Guide to Peer Support and CISM

By Andy O’Hara – January 30, 2017, …..”With over 55 years of combined experience in peer support, Syd Gravel and Brad McKay offer a comprehensive and wide ranging set of perspectives and recommendations for the formulation and implementation of a good mental health program in a department. They begin by outlining the role of stigma surrounding psychological challenges in this terribly toxic, caustic career field, stressing the value of commitment to a program by law enforcement leaders. Without a chief to “champion” the peer support process, they note, the program will go nowhere. This is, perhaps, one of the key points made in the book–it begins “at the top” and cannot merely be “delegated away.” Instead, a chief must recognize the importance of, and be directly involved in supporting it. Equally important is the selection of a lead person with specific qualifications to coordinate and implement the stages of organization and selection of personnel on behalf of the chief.

“Walk the Talk” recommends the establishment of good Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team PRIOR to formulating and implementing a peer support group, emphasizing the value of having officers cross-trained in both peer support and CISM. The book goes on to identify the necessary components and steps in setting up this aspect of the mental health program, taking a critical look at various approaches. Deployment, the use of mental health professionals and chaplains and the goals of CISM are explored and discussed in the chapters.

The structure, staffing and goals of both the CISM team and the peer support team are given particular attention, with a focus on the personal qualifications of the staff. Interestingly, Gravel and McKay note that the ideal candidate is one who has already been providing peer support to fellow officers on an informal basis, without structured training, or through training taken on their own. A thorough assessment is necessary, with psychological testing highly recommended. Nor is the family ignored–spouses and significant others are seen as one more valuable tool in this system. The book then goes on to explain, in detail, the recommended organizational training for CISM and peer support teams, touching on available resources and specific, essential training for all selected personnel. This section of the book provides a valuable overview, by categories and specific modules, that guides the reader on how to best orient and train involved personnel.

Overall, “Walk the Talk” is a valuable resource to anyone–particularly chiefs and other leaders–recognizing the need for an effective program that can not only recognize trauma and refer it for professional care, but proactively prevent it from even occurring. The benefits to a department are many fold–not only in preventing suicide or disability, but the reduction of things like complaints and lawsuits, divorces, grievances, substance abuse and even physical injuries. After all, the police officer who is emotionally distracted is a danger to himself, the public and the officer around him who are depending on him to be at his prime. The book has a personal touch to it that gives it credibility, and it moves along smoothly and logically throughout. I highly recommend it to those who have an abiding interest in their personnel and in enhancing the mental health of their workers.

The authors can be reached directly at:

Sylvio (Syd) A Gravel, M.O.M.
e-mail: sagravel@sympatico.ca

Brad McKay, CTSS
e-mail: brad228solutions@gmail.com


Syd Gravel is a former staff sergeant with thirty-one years of experience with the Ottawa Police Service. He is one of the founding fathers of Robin’s Blue Circle, a post-shooting trauma team of peers, established in 1988.

Syd is a more than twenty-eight-year PTSD survivor and has been a peer supporter since 1988. In 2007, he was nominated by his peers and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, and inducted by the Governor General of Canada for the Order of Merit in Policing, Canada.

Since his retirement, he has devoted all his time and energy to speaking on developing resilience and resistence to trauma and setting up peer support systems. He has written and published “56 Seconds” and “How to Survive PTSD and Build Peer Support.”

In 2014, Syd developed a trail-blazing curriculum for the certification of peers in Canada, based on the guidelines and practice for the selection and training of peers developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Syd is currently co-leading the Peer and Trauma Support Systems (P.A.T.S.S.) Team for the Mood Disorders Society of Canada. He is also a lead facilitator for peer workshops for Soldiers Helping Soldiers in Ottawa. The peer work focus is on helping homeless veterans. He has developed the content for the three-day peer training project – Transition to Communities for the Mood Disorder’s Society of Canada and is developing the content for a twenty-four hour on-line trauma management course through Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Syd is a Senior Police advisor for Badge of Life Canada. In 2016 he was nominated by the Mental Health Commission of Canada as a Canadian Champion of Mental Health.


Brad McKay retired in 2015 after thirty-three years of service with the York Regional Police (YRP). In 1984, he was involved in a shooting incident that resulted in the loss of a life.

At that time, there were no formal peer support or mental health programs available at YRP, so he processed the event on his own with help from his network of family and friends.

The York CISM Team is unique and ground-breaking as a multidisciplinary team in that it supports all first responder services including police, fire, paramedic and emergency department staff. To enhance wellness at YRP, he started the Operational Stress Injury Prevention and Response Unit in 2013; he also created the York Regional Police Peer Support Team in 2014.

As a Certified Trauma Services Specialist with ATSS, Brad has responded to and coordinated hundreds of interventions for frontline responders and their families. Brad has been asked to appear on TV News to provide the first responder perspective. Currently Brad is providing clinically supervised peer support for mental health professionals in York Region and is the peer lead for a local yoga group for first responders. Brad is proud and honoured to join Syd Gravel in co-leading the Peer and Trauma Support Systems (P.A.T.S.S.) Team. This is a team of highly skilled, trained, experienced and professional peer and mental health experts from across Canada. Many of these professionals have volunteered countless hours to support front- line responders.

Brad recently joined Badge of Life Canada as a senior police advisor and volunteers on two peer teams. A family man, Brad is a community-minded energetic advocate for wellness and peer support.

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