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Heads Up Australia | Peer Education Support Program | Fire and Rescue NSW

Fire and Rescue New South
Wales is made up of about 8,000 staff 7,500 of those staff are operational fire fighters. Their primary job is to respond to incidents ranging from fires, to rescues, to floods. When people are in trouble in the state, the fire fighters turn up. I’m Mark Dobson, I’m
the wellbeing coordinator for Fire and Rescue New South Wales. What I love about my job,
apart from driving the big red truck, is getting to help people. And as a wellbeing coordinator,
I get to help other fire fighters. An average day for a fire fighter
is made up of checking the gear, making sure that everything, all the appliances, is in
working order and serviceable. When the bells go off at a station, the motor driver grabs
the printout and that tells them all the information about what’s going to happen. And while he is doing that, the rest of the crew get their turnout gear on, jump onto the pump, ready
to go. You might be going to an automatic fire alarm at an office building or the biggest
fire you’ve ever been to in your life. Fire fighters are really good at
looking after all the equipment on the truck, but sometimes they forget to look after themselves.
Historically, fire fighters have been 10-foot tall and bulletproof, and have been reluctant
to ask for help. Our crews do get exposed to traumatic incidents but, on top of those
exposures, there’s also normal work and life stresses. People take a long time to get back
to work, if they’ve had a mental health problem. The average cost of a psychological injury
is between $50,000-$100,000 whereas the average cost of a physical injury is less than $20,000.
What we’re trying to do is encourage fire fighters to look after themselves and look
after their mates. In 1990, Fire and Rescue New South
Wales started a critical incidents support program. This program is made up of fire fighters
who volunteer their time to look after crews that have been exposed to traumatic incidents.
About five years ago, Fire and Rescue shifted its mental health focus from a reactive service
to a more proactive service. Proactive mental health for Fire and Rescue is about education,
awareness and prevention. Getting out to fire stations and talking about mental health in
general, rather than just about critical incidents. And training the managers in the organisation
to be a bit more engaged in looking after the mental health of the staff. One of the greatest assets of Fire
and Rescue’s mental health program are the members of the peer team. So, that’s 65 fire
fighters who volunteer their time to look after other fire fighters. In 2010, the University of New South Wales did a study of 1500 fire fighters and one of their key findings was that if
a fire fighter was exposed to trauma, they would turn to their mates, the guys with whom
they work, to find support. So, we thought it made sense to educate those people, the
peers in the organisation about how to look after themselves and each other. If you’ve got fire fighters that are talking with other fire fighters about mental health, they’re going to listen. Champions from within your workforce,
who promote mental health, are the best way to change attitudes and cultures in an organisation.

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