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Wyndham Vale recovers from tragedy
When a car drove into a lake and three children died, the local brigade members were the first responders along with members of the community. How does a brigade recover from that?
At Wyndham Vale they proceed by maintaining both their professional response capacity and their care for each other. Members debriefed immediately afterwards and also attended a CFA incident review and a multiagency debrief led by District 14 Operations Manager Trevor Roberts.
Local Peer Support Coordinator Neville Goddard attended the CFA incident review and praised the exemplary mutual respect and support between local CFA and SES and their excellent communication with Victoria Police.
“The services were able to work through a very confronting incident with absolute professionalism,” said Nev. “By the time a brigade arrives at a scene the outcome can already be locked in. This is when all their training comes to the fore – to respond to the incident as it is, not as they may wish it to be.
“These members were meticulous and worked with compassion and all CFA members can feel immense pride in their care and dedication. The Wyndham Vale members also exemplified the principle of being each other’s first and best support in the days and weeks following the incident, guided by an enlightened leadership team.”
Certainly Captain Trevor Weston is proud of his Wyndham Vale crew. He gives credit to the brigade’s peer network with his brigade management team doing a lot of phoning around to check on the welfare of members for some weeks after the event.
“You couldn’t fault them,” said Trevor, echoing Nev’s view. “The responders gave all the patients the best chance of survival.
“We are also grateful for the support we received after the event. Werribee had a crew sit in our station for three hours that night in case we got a call-out so we could debrief. Thanks to the Hoppers crew which has kept in touch with us and the District 14 operations team has provided unwavering support. The Werribee and the Hoppers crews took in the bigger picture and shared their positive observations of how we did and that’s carried a lot of weight with us.”
Wyndham Vale Fire Brigade is only four years old but has good bones, starting as a satellite station of Werribee with its proud 100 years of tradition and service. Twenty members left Werribee to form Wyndham Vale which now has 40 operational members attending between 350 and 400 incidents a year.
The brigade’s home is the second-fastest-growing area in Australia full of first home buyers. Three or four estates are due to open in the next 12 months with about six new families moving in every week.
“We’re a very junior brigade,” said Trevor, “but that means we’ve been able to model ourselves as the sort of brigade we want to be.”
Trevor praises the brigade’s skills mix which includes career firefighters, SES members, police officers, tradies, truck drivers, academics and shift workers. Special mention must also be made of Trevor who is both a paramedic and manages the Emergency Co-Responder Program for Ambulance Victoria.
Chief Officer Euan Ferguson also attended the debrief and saw firsthand the exceptional degree of expertise of all responders.
“I was impressed by the camaraderie,” said Euan. “There was a strong sense of a team among CFA members, SES, Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria members.
“This incident reinforces the fact that, when the pager drops, we never know what we’re going to. Each job has its own risks and sometimes its own tragic consequences. On this day at Wyndham Vale, a horrifying scenario played out in front of our members. Training, teamwork and leadership kicked in. It was more than ‘doing the best we can’. It was professionalism and compassion of the highest order.
“Many people, including our own, were deeply impacted by this tragedy and the actions taken to save lives. I have no doubt that the members and friends of the family involved, local residents and passers-by were filled with gratitude and respect for the efforts of emergency services.
“It is very important that we take time to assess how we are feeling after such an incident. Check on your team. Ask them how they are feeling. Extend the comforting hand of support to those who might be doing it hard.
“A tough job, done well.”
This professional operation is repeated around the state, as tens of thousands of members go about their often-confronting work in emergency response.
CFA has a range of support services and resources available to help members manage their mental health and deal with difficulties when they arise, including:
- Peer Support Program - trained members offering support & guidance – contact your local Peer Coordinator
- Member Assistance Program – a 24-hour counselling service – 1300 795 711
- Chaplaincy Program – offering 24-hour pastoral care – 1800 337 068
- HeadsUP online toolkit - information and advice on managing mental health and relationship issues – www.cfa.vic.gov.au/headsup
The services are confidential, free of charge and available to all CFA members and their immediate families.