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Our youngest peer talks wellbeing
At only 26 years of age, Tim Rogers is already a veteran peer. Now in his sixth year, he is also the District 15 Deputy Peer Coordinator.
Tim is a volunteer with Smythesdale Fire Brigade and works as an Ambulance Dispatcher with ESTA, so he’s got a keen eye for both operational and psychological emergencies.
“When we’re activated as peers, it seems to be 40 per cent for CFA-related issues and 60 per cent for personal issues,” said Tim. “A lot of our work is phone calls following an incident. We’ve pushed awareness sessions about the peer program in our district and we’re now seeing a shift in the number of brigades calling us for support.”
Peers are generally activated after the rostered duty officer talks to the incident controller. They might arrange pizza and a chat at the station after an incident but before everyone goes home. If a job is drawn out, peers can be activated to attend the incident.
A peer can also be activated once the district peer coordinator is contacted by anyone: a member, their family member, a friend or another brigade member.
It’s vital that members and their families understand that peers can only be activated once they’ve received a request.
Peers do a lot of work over the phone, visit members in hospital and do practically anything else that needs to be done to support a member and/or their family.
“We’re trying to change the culture to ensure that all brigades debrief after every incident,” continued Tim “We just urge captains and incident controllers to check in with everyone in their crews before making a blanket statement about their wellbeing.
“One crew member might be angry they haven’t been contacted, or they might be okay at the station but it’s not until they get home or the next day that an issue crops up for them. We want to ensure that everyone has strategies to manage stress.”
Tim used the analogy of a bucket to describe how stress accumulates. A member is exposed to things most members of the general public aren’t; put water in the bucket. There are day-to-day stresses; more water in the bucket. Have an argument at work or home; more water in the bucket. Attend an incident with the underlying fear that you might know the person involved; more water in the bucket. The bucket is full. Frustration, anger and grief spill over.
So Tim, how did you become a peer at such a young age?
“When it comes to things like the peer program,” he said, “I think you either have the knack or you don't, and I was lucky enough to have it. Twelve months of pretty intensive peer training gave me the skills and discipline to be part of the program.
“Having peers of all ages and backgrounds is what gives the program the depth to deal with the broad range of people in CFA.
“Initially I was concerned my age would be an issue in supporting others but honestly, when someone wants to talk, most of the time they just want to be heard and age becomes irrelevant.
“The conversation doesn’t have to be formal, but the peer will be using particular strategies to carry out that conversation. People might just say they’re not feeling themselves and they’re not sure what to do. It’s surprising what comes out when people are in a rut and you give them a chance to talk about what is at the top of their mind.
“If necessary, we can then link them into support services.”
“The peer program guarantees confidentiality. Nothing goes back to operational staff or anyone for that matter, unless the member says they’re going to harm themselves or others.”
Tim urged all members to care for themselves by regularly doing something simple that they enjoy. That might mean going for a walk, listening to music or meeting up with friends. It’s vital to maintain social connections, get enough sleep and eat well.
“If none of that seems to be working,” continued Tim, “call our support services 24/7. There’s always going to be someone on the end of the phone.”
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Headspace on 1800 650 890.
If you are in an emergency situation or at immediate risk of harm, contact emergency services on Triple Zero (000).
CFA Welfare Support Services
Member Assistance Program: 1300 795 711 (24 hours)
Peer Support Program: contact your local peer coordinator
Chaplaincy Program: 1800 337 068 (24 hours)
HeadsUP online resources: cfa.vic.gov.au/headsup