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Faces of CFA: Greg Parker
As part of Men's Health Week, we feature Smythesdale Fire Brigade's Greg Parker who coordinates their rehab unit, one of 14 in Victoria.
What are your CFA roles and what is your job outside CFA?
I’m the 1st deputy group officer of Grenville Group, the 3rd lieutenant of the brigade and the rehab team leader or coordinator. I was appointed the brigade’s first specialist response coordinator about 12 months ago to coordinate the setup of this unit.
I’m an enrolled nurse and have been working for the past 11 years at the Red Cross Blood Service for three years and the past seven years at Ballarat Base Hospital.
Why did you join?
I joined in 1997 at 11 as a member of the Junior running team and worked my way up to being a senior member completing Minimum Skills.
My father Alwyn is the Smythesdale captain and he’s up to 40 years’ service. My sister Lauren is also an operational firefighter.
How did the rehab unit get started?
The brigade was looking at broadening its skills and District 15 approached us about setting up a rehab unit. There was no funding but the brigade funded $6000 to buy the rehab equipment while CFA gave us the health monitoring equipment which is worth about $14,000. We already had a support trailer which we repurposed.
What was the first major incident the brigade’s rehab unit attended?
We ended up at Wye River a few days after Christmas Day in 2015.
We set up at the surf club and targeted anyone from CFA, DELWP or any of the community volunteers who came in for meals. There were two rehab operators who both had first aid and I was there to facilitate the health monitoring and interpret the data reads of their oxygen saturation, pulse, CO levels and hydration levels.
Yellingbo co-responded with us to replace Mernda who were there for the first few days of the incident. By the time we were there the weather was cooling down. That led people to not drink quite so much but they were still sweating, of course, so hydration levels were quite low.
What incident you’ve attended with the rehab unit has had the greatest impact on you?
Seeing the devastation at Wye River and putting our training into practice – we saw that we did make a difference and that confidence and sense of purpose has flowed on to every other job.
How does your rehab unit operate?
We get to an incident and set the rehab chairs up with water at room temperature in the arm rests. Ice water constricts the blood vessels so the coolness doesn’t penetrate. Firefighters will stay in the chair for about 20 minutes and for the first 10 minutes they may feel warmer. As they start to cool down, we notice a dramatic change in the water temperature. They’ve been operating at a higher core temperature so, after 20 minutes, the water their arms are resting in is warmer.
With low hydration levels, we recommend people drink one bottle of Staminade and two bottles of water over the next few hours.
When the rehab units started, a lot of people were scared that health monitoring was there to pull people off the fireground. We’ve never done that. We’re there to help you. We’re there to maintain you to do your job, so education is another role we take on in all the rehab units; helping our members and the other emergency services understand why we’re there.
Some strike teams came through rehab at Wye River and there was negativity because they didn’t really know understand our role. I think we educated them and they saw our greater purpose and that we’re all working towards the same end.
What CFA training have you got the most out of?
Rehab health monitoring with Peter Langridge was invaluable. Having a health background, I was familiar with the material we covered, but it’s great to be part of a group of people upskilling.
District 15 Headquarters brigade is our secondary rehab resource and there are 30 people trained up for rehab across the two brigades including four nurses and two paramedics. I try to put a medical professional into any rehab or health monitoring job we attend.
We’re happy with the number but we’re still finding our feet. In the lead-up to the fire season, we want to find a few more medical professionals to volunteer so we can maintain coverage. We’re probably looking for another three or four for a fire-season roster because I can see us becoming more used.
What has been the highlight of your time in CFA?
Probably going back to 2009 and the local Snake Valley fire: it was a large local event and it really means a lot to put back into the local community.
I’m still an operational firefighter 80 per cent of the time and volunteering as a medical professional in the rehab unit the other 20 per cent of the time. We’re still trying to get our name out there in the local area as a rehab unit.
What is your top health tip?
Get things checked out!
Look after yourself and others day to day. If there are issues on the fireground, let someone in your crew know and go and get it checked out. If you don’t, you’re putting everyone in the crew at risk.