Special feature column: Through the Fire

Through the fire: HMCS Protecteur, remembered for it's engine room fire.  Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Robert Stirrup on commons.wikimedia.org

HMCS Protecteur. Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Robert Stirrup on commons.wikimedia.org

Thomas Goenczi — Like many before me and many after me, I left the Royal Canadian Navy looking forward to the future ahead. My claim to infamy was being a crew member on HMCS Protecteur when the engine room fire occurred. All the training we received beforehand more than likely saved our lives. I am forever grateful for every member of that ship.

After the soot settled, the rumblings began. The question, ‘how close were we really to sinking to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean?’ permeated everyone’s mind. The fire and the precipitating thoughts and emotions became a psychic time bomb for me.

Tick. Tock.

Every distraction under the sun was deployed; I even started university again to try to delay the inevitable. You bet it worked; I felt invincible; I mean, I just survived an engine room fire on a 45-year-old tanker, how could I not be inflated?

Six months after getting home, I began experiencing serious symptoms of Crohn’s disease. My symptoms eventually went into remission, but it was merely the calm before the storm.

Tick. Tock.

Three years later, I slipped into one of the darkest times in my life.


I experienced depression for months until I eventually mustered the fortitude to go to the base hospital and seek help.

To this day, I believe it took me just as much courage to walk to the base hospital for my mental health as it was to be a crew member on the Protecteur.

My faith constantly waxed and waned throughout counselling. There were days I didn’t think I would make it. Then, finally, I decided to voluntarily release and move to Tofino to decompress.

I eventually came back to Victoria and completed my Master’s in Counselling. This led me to open a private practice, Well Then Therapy, in the hopes of helping active duty members and veterans deal with some of the unique struggles I have faced.

I’ve asked some of my Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) friends what led us to enlist. They join Forces looking for something. Some join for a sense of duty, some for the camaraderie, and some because it pays well and it was a career option available to us. No matter the reason, it takes courage to do something most people wouldn’t dare think of doing. There is an ineffable bond that each of us shares; part of that is that no one knows what it’s like to be in the CAF except for us.

One of the duties we often forget while serving is to be good to ourselves and others. I see the stigma surrounding mental health among the ranks slowly dissolve, like fog out at sea, and that is, undoubtedly, a success. One person’s path may not be the path for everyone. Your way is your way, and when you find that thing that sparks your life – follow it, tend to that flame, and you will live a life that no one can extinguish.

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