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Peer talks looking after yourself
Diamond Creek member Neville Goddard has been operational for almost 30 years; the ideal qualification for being the Peer Coordinator in District 14.
Stresses arise in workplaces, families and brigades, of course, but CFA peers tend to see members who realise they are responding out of all proportion to something that life throws at them.
“That can be a sign that our innate resilience is used up,” says Neville. “Prior exposure to a traumatic event such as attending a motor vehicle accident can come to the fore and people realise they’re struggling to live their lives. I say that something coming to a head is a good thing. It causes people to confront an issue, disentangle themselves emotionally and make some progress.
“There are consistent themes I came across after the 2009 fires. Many people had a sense of hopelessness, helplessness and inadequacy in the face of the overwhelming force of those fires, and that’s a very hollow feeling. Our expectation as CFA firefighters is that we will protect lives and property. Fire brigades are groups of committed people doing what they can for the community and yet some people had to drive away from places like Marysville. That’s a tough feeling to carry.
“People often started with the thought that, ‘We just weren’t up to it’. Gradually, though, they’ve found out more about what happened and formed a broader view. They did save lives; they did make a difference. Often they come around to seeing there was no way they could have done more. ‘We did what we could.’ That doesn’t sound like much but actually it’s everything – what more can anyone do?”
Informal post-incident debriefs are now a regular feature of brigade life and another vital way for members to build a broader view. There’s much more to every incident that just what you did and you saw.
“After a potentially traumatising incident,” continues Neville, “we often find members agreeing among themselves that, yes, we actually did a good job. We worked well together but the outcome was beyond our control. It’s valuable for members of a crew to hear that from each other. An individual can ultimately feel, ‘I’m grateful for the training; grateful for my mates’. It can help our members find a place for that experience so it doesn’t dominate their lives.”
Neville has been heartened to find more brigades also checking up on each other in casual conversations as they stow gear or carry out general duties around the station.
“It’s not written down but I’d say it was now Standard Operating Procedure in many brigades,” he says. “It’s inspiring to see this change in our culture.”
If Neville is in low spirits or facing a particular challenge in his life, he finds connections with family and being part of the extended CFA family very life enhancing.
“I find physical activity as important for my mental wellbeing as it is for my physical wellbeing,” he says.
“I love getting out into the environment. I love the hills, the coast, the flat bits. I like it when it’s hot, I love the rain and when it’s cold and frosty in the morning. The external world has a significant impact on our mental life and I find something to like in just about everything.”
Heck, he even enjoyed going to an Iron Maiden concert with his sons.
There’s one final tip and it ties Neville into what is perhaps the open secret at the heart of being a CFA member.
“I donate blood. I’m doing something for other people but it makes me feel good.