News & Media

District 10 peers ready to go

  • After the Seaton fire. Image courtesy of Shirley Millard.
  • After the Seaton fire. Image courtesy of Shirley Millard.
  • After the Seaton fire. Image courtesy of Shirley Millard.
  • Shirley Millard.

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Category: Incidents - Bushfire, People

  2.29 PM 7 November, 2013


Location: District 10 News

Views: 1562

The district 10 peer support team is gearing up for another busy season and, after dealing with the Heyfield fires earlier in the year, they’re well prepared.

"People in Gippsland are well versed in natural disaster and anxiety starts going up in August. When you have disasters as regularly as we do, every three years or so, it’s on your radar. We’ve dealt with fires, droughts and floods since 2000,” says Shirley Millard, Treasurer of Coongulla brigade and District 10 chaplain.

“We’ve resumed our monthly meetings after the mid-year break and brigades are getting prepared. The weather is quite variable at the moment – we’ll have a warm day then a windy, cool cloudy day – so we’re really dealing with the unknown.”

The district 10 peer support team provides assistance 12 months a year, through any disaster, family or volunteer issue. Peers come from across district 10 and are all CFA members.

Shirley has a social work background, specialising in support following potentially traumatic events, and has been a CFA chaplain since 2007.

“I’m not a religious chaplain but a contract chaplain. My approach is to go to the brigade and help out, do what you can. I can’t stay and save my house – it’s part of my strategy for dealing with fire.”

The peer support team has eight meetings each year at Traralgon Fire Station to debrief past events, hear from guest speakers and plan ahead.

“After each fire, the group meets to discuss how everyone’s going and the next plan of action. Coongulla brigade hosted our last meeting after the Heyfield fires earlier in the year and that was really good,” says Shirley.

“We worked throughout the first few weeks of the Heyfield fires and one of the most effective things we did was visit the brigades and members a little bit out from the local community, such as Briagolong, Cowwarr and Toongabbie, who’ve been affected previously and were under threat again. Luckily, the fire didn’t come through.

“We also registered people when they came in and out of the town so everyone knew where they were going. We had a lot of information available so people were happy to register and get the latest news. It was a lot of work but a very effective way to help the community. We’ll continue with that this season.”

Some of the most valuable welfare support took place during informal conversations, according to Allan Cracknell, peer coordinator for District 10.

“We spoke with hundreds of people, visiting and mingling with fire crews on the ground or the staging area or attending meetings at stations. We also attended community meetings where CFA operations, DEPI and Parks Victoria presented to each community about where the fires were going and what to do,” says Allan.

“We found that people were under a significant amount of stress – especially around Seaton, Glenmaggie and Licola – which could have been affected big time. The fire came through rapidly in the middle of the night and people were impacted far quicker than they’d experienced in the past.

“After the fire, it was about finding out how people were going as individuals, small groups and brigades. When the chips are down, the operations staff, BASOs, staff and volunteers really support their members and each other.

“It’s important to recognise the work operations staff do behind the scenes that doesn’t get advertised for confidentiality reasons. They’ll support people at funerals. If someone in the family is ill, they’ll ring up or visit them. They’ll attend car accidents and support members at the scene. People who are injured on the fireground are regularly rung or visited to see how they are.”

Allan feels that the culture around member welfare is shifting for the better.

“At a recent peer meeting, one of our members was saying how much things had changed over the past 10 years since the 2003 fires, and that people are more ready to ask for help. I think that, overall, CFA is more proactive now in that regard.”


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Last Updated: 08 November 2013