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Rehab units safeguarding crews
Three years after the establishment of the first CFA rehabilitation unit at Dandenong, there are now 11 operating across the state.
Eight units have an additional health monitoring capacity underpinned by medical expertise.
“We asked those eight to recruit nurses, doctors and paramedics who would volunteer in the rehab role,” said Manager Health Monitoring Peter Langridge. “We got 48 new members, one third of them women, and they’re now in place as health professionals in this newly-created volunteer role who are also promoting health initiatives within brigades.
“Greg Parker from Smythesdale is a nurse and he has recruited five. Rochester now has five nurses and a paramedic.
“Their enthusiasm is unbelievable and about seven of them have already completed Minimum Skills [recruit training] on top of a season of rehab.”
The rehab crew and health professionals have been trained to assess fireground injuries and exposures using medical monitoring equipment. This includes the Masimo unit which measures heart rate, oxygen saturation, carbon monoxide in the bloodstream and hydration levels.
During the 2015-16 fire season, rehab units were deployed to all major Victorian incidents starting in November with the Portland ship fire where the eight specialist units worked in rotation over 10 days.
Unsurprisingly, a number of those incidents presented significant health challenges.
“There were high levels of carbon monoxide at the Somerton tip fire,” said, “and each of our rehab units was there over seven days. The Strathdownie peat fire produced dust and carbon monoxide and a number of volunteers were affected before our units were deployed with atmospheric monitoring done by Geelong hazmat.”
At Scotsburn, the rehab chairs were placed at ops or fill points. In Tasmania, the health monitoring units also set up at ops points mid-shift before assessing members from all Australian fire agencies at the staging area at the end of the day. The carbon monoxide exposure and dehydration that presented before the rehab units deployed were reversed within 24 hours.
Mernda attended the MFB-territory Broadmeadows tyre fire and worked with Ambulance Victoria at the Somerton tip fire. DELWP accessed rehab at Wye River while Victoria Police and SES have also felt the benefits.
Yellingbo brigade established the first volunteer rehab unit and Captain Paul Spinks is one of its champions.
“We set it up to generate interest and were prepared to work hard,” he said. “While there was initially some hesitation from some of our long-time members, they’re now all saying what a great thing it is.
“We have 10 members now with medical expertise and we’re still getting new applicants. We’re building a culture of looking after our own. Our work might make the difference between responders working the next day or not or being more energetic with their kids. It’s giving back to the front line
“We’re protecting lives and getting maximum satisfaction.”
“Rehab is about prevention, not cure,” continued Peter. “We shouldn’t expect injuries. They should be out of the ordinary. There were a number of heat stress cases as the fire season began but the rehab units have proven to be invaluable for the safety of firefighters.
“The ambition is to get one in each district and I’ve already got a waiting list.
“The Chief [Officer Joe Buffone] is right behind our work because it’s all about looking after the safety of our people.”
It costs $10,000 to set up a rehab unit which is all funded by the brigades. All current units are working towards funding their own purpose-built vehicle if they don’t have one already.