“It’s very difficult for first responders to ask for help. We’re so used to being the ones who people go to.”
This is how Maria Constandinou describes the meaning and reason behind her song, 10-4, which was just recently released as a music video and features a number of local personalities.
“And it’s hard to take that mask off… it’s a role that we play, and it’s very difficult to undo that. It’s a very scary and vulnerable position to be in,” she continued.
“That the intention of the video. We’re saying ‘It’s OK.’ And we’re saying it in a very loud and very vulnerable way to encourage these first responders to act.”
Constandinou is an Ambulance Communications Officer with the Kingston Central Communications Centre. In other words, she works as a dispatcher for 911 and emergency calls in the area. And, after attending her second year of Peer Support Training, Constandinou returned home with a feeling unlike any other – there was something inside of her she needed to get out, she said.
“It was almost like a culmination of what I was hearing… these words just came to me, I can’t describe it any other way,” she said candidly. “So I just wrote them.”
Constandinou laughed as she recalled the odd feeling of a song just coming to her. As someone who struggles with the idea of calling herself ‘a musician’ – she’s always used playing the piano as a cathartic outlet, and had never written a song before – Constandinou was quick to point out that ‘musicians’ are like those she collaborated with in the creation of 10-4, people like Teagan McLaren, Andrew Phillips, and Kelli Trottier. But at the end of the day, the song is hers.
“The tune came at the same time as the words, and I had no idea what was going on,” Constandinou said, laughing. “But I played it for my mother-in-law, Judith Austin her name is, and she said ‘Wow, Maria, you have to do something with this.’”
What happened next is tantamount to kismet. It just so happens that Constandinou plays floor hockey with a local musician: the aforementioned Teagan McLaren. When Constandinou mentioned the song to McLaren, McLaren immediately said she wanted to be a part of it. Constandinou then connected with Andrew Phillips, a musician and songwriter who just so happens to be married to one of Constandinou’s co-workers.
“And it just started to piece together,” Constandinou said.
After speaking with some friends and other local artists, it was in speaking with her best friend, Linda, that another spark led to igniting the fire under Constandinou.
“She said ‘I’m hearing this music, and I can envision someone swallowing their emotions down, just struggling to swallow it down,’” Constandinou recalled. “And I slept that night and woke up with the entire video in my brain.”
With the vision in her head, Constandinou began searching for a videographer and, thanks to a few connections, was introduced to Mickey Tachuk, who offered both the use of his services and equipment at no charge in an attempt to make that vision a reality. As fate would have it, Tachuk’s sister is a volunteer firefighter. All of those people, along with real first responders from Kingston and the area, came together to create the 10-4 video.
“So many people that came together on this because they cared so much. They volunteered their time, their expertise, their talent, their equipment… it is unbelievable. This is our project, it is not mine,” Constandinou expressed.
And, while working with all of these talents, it became clear to Constandinou how important it was for her to get her message out – the message that it’s OK to ask for help.
“For the last few weeks, we’ve had a few first responders across Canada and especially in Ontario that have taken their own lives,” she said, recalling a friend sending her a message, pleading with her to post the video immediately. But the video wasn’t ready yet.
“And that kind of put the fire under my butt to spend as much time as I could on it so that we could get it completed,” she shared.
As Constandinou mentioned, dealing with mental health issues and the impact their work can have on them can be particularly difficult for first responders. This is visualized through the music video, which opens showing first responders in their own turmoil. But more importantly, through the video, a clear message comes through
“There is hope in the end,” Constandinou said. “You just have to reach out and accept the help.”
She shared more deeply why this can be so difficult for those who work daily to help others in their times of need.
“It’s such an ironic situation. We do hide when we help, because if I’m helping someone, then I must be OK. Everybody is seeing me, and they must believe that I’m OK because I can say ‘10-4’ and accept the next call and attend to it and just keep going. But some of us are not OK,” she said.
“It’s extremely important that people understand… You have to be so strong to ask for help. You have to be so resilient to ask for help… As caregivers, as first responders, we’ve always seen that as a weakness, but it’s not. It takes so much to be able to say ‘I need help,’” she continued.
“And if we can continue to talk about it in our first responder roles, if we can change the culture in police, in firefighters, paramedics, and dispatch… if we can change that culture, then… essentially we can be saving lives.”
That’s why the 10-4 music video is tied to ‘I’ve got your back 911’ and a number of other agencies that provide support and first responders’ mental health initiatives. In fact, at the end of the video, and embedded in links below it on YouTube are resources spanning the country that aim to do just that: provide help to those who help others in need on a daily basis.
“And all of us, every single person who worked on this project said the same thing: If it helps just one person, then it was all worth it,” Constandinou said. “If it can help even just one person see that they can ask for help, it was absolutely worth it.
To view the video on YouTube, click here. Subscribe to Constandinou’s channel to stay tuned for more (she is already working on her next piece entitled ‘Their Stories’), and find a full list of resources for first responders across Canada. To find out more about ‘I’ve got your back 911,’ click here.