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Tour de Timor teaches CFA member about heat stress
Taking care of adventurous bike riders in Timor-Leste has shed light on the effects of heat stress for a CFA volunteer.
Wendouree 5th Lieutenant Don Garlick spent five days in the country for the Tour de Timor from 13 to 17 September.
Don was a member of the Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT), made up of more than 20 medical, nursing, allied health and logistical personnel. The team worked together to treat more than 100 daredevil bike riders navigating the rocky roads and barely-beaten tracks across Timor-Leste.
Injuries and illnesses ranged from abrasions, bruises and shoulder injuries from falls, dehydration, sprains and severe heat stress.
With a background as a critical care nurse, current role as Ballarat Health Services Manager of Emergency, AUSMAT member and his work with CFA, Don was well-prepared to expect the unexpected.
“One of the more common conditions we treated was heat stress, which is something firefighters are often exposed to,” Don said.
“I was surprised by how much emotional responses were part of the symptoms of heat stress, with some of the riders in delayed heat stress presenting with emotional distress.
“I was lucky enough to work alongside heat specialist, Dr Matt Brearley who taught me a lot about identifying early symptoms and best ways to treat this condition, which I can now take back with me to help at CFA incidents.”
Don and the team moved their equipment and medical tent every morning to the next check point of the bike race.
“While the riders faced a more intense physical and mental challenge, it was still a lot of work for us with 4am starts to pack up the medical clinic, cooling and resuscitation tents and move to the next area,” he said.
“Even driving on the roads was precarious because of the lack of infrastructure and pretty chaotic road rules.
“We were treating patients with basic resources, which came with a whole range of challenges. Among all this, we also had to take care of ourselves in the heat so we could manage the regular flow of patients.”
The National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC), which manages the AUSMAT international medical response on behalf of the Australian Government, is a major sponsor of Tour de Timor. NCCTRC selects AUSMAT members who have not yet been deployed to an incident like an earthquake or cyclone, to make up the medical team for this growing event for experience.
As an AUSMAT member and CFA volunteer, Don sees both of his roles influencing each other.
“I’ve always viewed volunteering as bringing skills I already have to my CFA work and to use the skills I’ve gained at CFA to enhance the way I carry out my day job,” he said.