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Respect for Peer Support program
"Respect is something that works best when mutual. Mutual respect is one of the foundations of the Peer Program. We work from a basis of unconditional positive regard for those we work with, and receive respect and appreciation in return."
District 14 Peer Coordinator Neville Goddard explains why CFA’s voluntary Peer Support Program is a perfect example of CFA’s value of respect.
The program began as a grass roots movement amongst firefighters involved in Ash Wednesday, who recognised the need for emotional and psychological support after a traumatic incident. There are currently more than 150 volunteer and career peers.
Peers are empathetic and compassionate individuals who help members and their families respond to traumatic and distressing events, as well as personal difficulties a person may be struggling with.
Neville Goddard has been involved with the program for more than 12 years. He became a Coordinator in December 2008 – just two months before the Black Saturday fires.
“The Peer program encourages empowerment on an individual and brigade basis, to help people who are typically resilient self-starters to recapture that for themselves,” Neville said.
Neville said he often tells brigade members that “you are each other’s first and best support".
“Commonly in sessions with brigades, members will come out and say very supportive and affirming things to each other. The openness of communication encouraged during Peer sessions encourages mutual respect and empathy.”
Neville said from his perspective, he saw “enormous benefits” of the peer support program - in the immediate term following incidents or welfare difficulties in people's lives; and in the longer term as part of wider cultural change within the CFA.
“As I interact with members in many different brigades, I see a level of care and support for each other that I am sure is greater than it used to be. My respect for CFA members is often increased when I’m privileged to hear about actions and commitment they have displayed in the course of duty.”
He said the positive impact of the peer support program was particularly important given the increased pressures of daily life combining with those of an emergency services volunteer.
“We often hear how stressful modern life is, and those who choose to step forward to be part of the emergency services in a volunteer capacity add to that load. When things are working well, the emergency services involvement can be significantly life-enhancing.
“Benefits include improved self-esteem, the gaining of skills and knowledge, close friendships, greater personal safety due to fundamental understanding of risks and sense of being part of something bigger than yourself.
“However, demands for training, etc, have increased in parallel with the stresses in life generally, which I do think has contributed to growing use of Peers. Two factors I have also seen as frequent prompters for Peer involvement is motor vehicle accidents, particularly involving young people and suicides, which brigades are increasingly responding to.”
CFA is currently recruiting the next intake of peer support officers.
Learn more about becoming a peer. Register your interest before the end of September via your local peer Coordinator (contact details here). Make sure you are logged in to CFA Online before clicking on the links so they direct you straight to the right page.