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Look out for red back spiders
21-year-old CFA firefighter Jenna Allen is speaking out to fellow members about the dangers of red back spiders, warning members in rural areas to take care.
The Donald Fire Brigade member spent two months in hospital over summer recovering from complications following a serious red back bite, and learnt that parts of Australia are in the grip of a red back spider epidemic, possibly caused by floods over recent years.
While Jenna didn’t suffer the bite in the course of firefighting duties, having read up on red back spiders and their habits, she can definitely see the potential for them to seek and inhabit the warm, dry spaces in fire stations.
Her message to others: be aware very careful when putting on boots and turnout gear and around the station.
Jenna has been an active and committed brigade member since the age of 16, who has completed leadership programs and says she loves “looking out for our community and being part of a team and family.”
However, in late December 2015, her life changed dramatically when she reached into a shoe box at the back door of her home and felt something climb up her arm.
As she brushed off the offending spider (a red back) it bit her. Jenna was immediately overcome with sweats, vomiting and diarrhoea as the bite tracked down the vein.
She went straight to hospital in Horsham where she was put in ICU and given anti venom and antibiotics. After a week or so she was released but the wound continued to get worse.
Jenna was soon admitted to Bendigo Base Hospital where the doctor scraped the wound and sent photos to the plastic surgeon. The scraping caused the wound to bleed for days.
Once it began to heal Jenna underwent a skin graft - the donor site was her left thigh. Again this was an extremely painful process.
For Jenna, worrying about the welfare of others has always been a priority.
As she continues her recovery Jenna recounts the pain, headaches, as well as loss of her job and her inability to ride her motor bike and touches on her self-doubt, the mental aspect it created, breakdown of some social connections and the feeling of ‘treading on water.’
Jenna, who has successfully completed several CFA leadership programs, is concentrating on rebuilding and moving forward.
Having also suffered a knee injury in the past, she says motorbike riding means the world to her, and has her sights set on eventually purchasing her own motorbike. Her ultimate goal is working for CFA as a career firefighter.
In the meantime, this courageous CFA members is focusing on moving on with her life step by step. She’s looking to find an office job, and trying not to stress about issues in her life.
And again her warning to fellow CFA members - “take every precaution to avoid red back spiders.”
Thank you to Jenna and Fire Wise for contributing this story.