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Out of the hospital & into the heat
World leading trauma doctors and nurses visited Fiskville on Wednesday 27 November to get a feel for what firefighters experience on the front line when rescuing people that may end up on their operating table.
Specialists from The Alfred Hospital and the Philippine General Hospital clutched on to the jackets of Fiskville recruits as they were led through a series of tunnels and doors during a simulated house fire. Recruits explained how to use ladders and pipes as a guide when searching the building for casualties, over the top of loud music and sound effects designed to confuse the senses.
“Today is about giving our guests an appreciation for the work the firefighters do, the environment they work in and how they deal with it,” said Recruit Course Coordinator Chris Bigham.
“The fireground is quite a different workplace to the sterile hospital they’ve come from − in a house fire you usually can’t see anything for the first ten minutes.”
The visit was initiated by Professor Mark Fitzgerald, Director of Trauma Services at The Alfred Hospital, who is the patron of the current recruit course.
“Mark is a world expert in his field and his team handled the severely burned adults from Black Saturday. This was an opportunity for him to bring out some of his senior people to see how firefighters work,” said Chris.
“The Recruit Course Patrons Program is about bringing in inspiring people, whether they’re successful in business or their personal lives, to give recruits guidance about meeting and overcoming challenges. It sets them up with some processes that will help in their recruit course and throughout their careers with CFA.
“It was fantastic that Mark was able to bring visitors from The Alfred’s trauma exchange program with the Philippines General Hospital in Manilla. Their hospital is currently overwhelmed by patients from the current natural disasters and it was interesting to hear their perspective”.
Previous course patrons include Australian paralympic gold medal winner Carol Cooke, successful businessman Lindsay Fox, Channel Nine News presenter Peter Hitchener and University of Ballarat lecturer Sue Brown.
This was Mark’s second visit in his role as course patron, and his presentation a month earlier was a real eye opener said Instructor Paul Fixter.
“It’s good to get an understanding of the full chain of events, from the first responders to an emergency all the way up to the hospital care they get from the good staff at The Alfred Emergency and Trauma unit,” said Paul.
“While we work closely with the paramedics, we don’t actually get to see or hear about the end result after we leave a motor vehicle accident or a bad medical situation. It’s good to know who’s operating on these people when they’re unfortunate enough to have a serious car accident or injury and sometimes they end up in Mark’s hands at The Alfred.”
Mark notices similarities between the work of his team and firefighters.
“I have worked on many burned patients including those from Ash Wednesday and Black Saturday, and I have a lot of appreciation for the work firefighters do. Running a trauma service, we’re dealing with injured people every day and we’re used to having to deal with crises,” said Mark.
“Community service is very rewarding and fundamental to human nature. Our frontal lobes ‘light up’ every time you help somebody else. I still get that feeling when I help people, it’s great.
“Also, every job is different. It doesn’t matter how much experience these people have fighting fires, there’s something different and unexpected every time. It’s the same as working in injury management – there’s always some variation because you’re dealing with biological systems rather than engineered systems. They’re unpredictable and challenging.
“We run a very protocol-based system with injury management at The Alfred and you’ve got a similar approach here – it’s well organised. Your firefighters have to put on the right gear and do it all the time, and it has to be perfect every time.
This is a very good facility. We’ve only recently gone into simulation with the medical services – unlike the fire services that have done it for a long time.
“The most common errors occur not because people do things the wrong way, but because they just forget to do things. And that’s what part of our concentration with trauma is: not to forget to do things that should be done. Standardisation reduces the errors in omission.”
Mark is optimistic about the way things are heading in trauma recovery as a result of improvements in technology, better evacuation, better first aid and better access to care – such as helicopters flying patients directly to the trauma centre.
“Injuries that we’d have considered non-survivable 10 years ago are now survivable. I saw two patients on the night of Black Saturday that, on the normal rating system, had non-survivable airway injuries but they went on to survive. We’re constantly pushing the envelope of survivability.”