Why did you decide to become a CFA peer?
Gregory: I felt I had more to offer CFA and I looked for something different to keep me occupied in future when I can’t be an active firefighter. I like the idea of trained peers helping members find a solution and access help.
Lesley: I was approached originally by the operations manager at the time and asked if I had considered becoming a peer. I’ve always been interested in supporting CFA, its members and their families, so for me this was a natural path to go down.
How long did the training take?
G: I completed the training in one year. It was thorough and included theory and practical parts. There were two full weekends which helped us all get through it. I thought it was an excellent preparation for the range of situations I would be responding to.
L: It took about 18 months to become fully qualified. The training has certainly come a long way. When I started it was 12 months of work books before you could even start the role. Over the past couple of years, that has been cut down a little to ensure that volunteers are not overwhelmed by the training, while still making sure the same level of competency is being obtained.
What are the most common types of peer support you do?
G: I have helped members with welfare debriefs after a critical incident to assist them with psychological first-aid. I’m also involved in actively promoting the peer program in our districts.
L: I don’t think there’s a ‘common’ type of peer job. A call-out for a peer can involve supporting a brigade or members after a particularly nasty incident or event. It can also be to support an individual with something that is affecting them. Often, I’m a shoulder for someone to lean on when things are tough.
What has been the highlight so far?
G: The friendships I have formed with other peers during and after the training period. I’ve also got to see CFA on many different levels across our area. When responding to fire and other events, I’m proud of how supportive CFA members can be to one another in challenging circumstances.
L: This is difficult to answer because peers don’t often see the highlights – we normally support someone when they are not in a good place. The biggest highlight is certainly being able to offer support to those who need it most. The friendships I’ve made in the peer team are certainly a highlight as well. I‘ve been lucky enough to have some amazing role models in Pat Bigham and Norm Bowen who I saw as, and continue to see as, the guiding lights in the Peer Program.
What have been the most challenging parts of being a CFA peer?
G: It was very challenging to take on the peer role immediately following a fire that impacted me personally. I considered giving up on becoming a peer but I’m glad I continued with the training because I made some good friendships with other members. Being in fire recovery gave me a unique understanding of how individuals and communities recover.
L: The constant change in CFA is certainly a challenge and the fact that even today the subject of mental health can still be a bit taboo. Although a lot of positive changes have occurred over the years, there’s still a long way to go.
Given the many challenges of being a peer, what do you do to look after yourself?
G: I have a farm and I plan small projects which relax me in a natural setting. I take care to monitor my capacity to do peer work and I access help if I need it.
L: I have an amazing, supportive family and a great team.
What would you say to a CFA member considering joining the Peer Program?
G: It’s a wonderful long-term opportunity to help CFA members. You see a whole different side of CFA, meet new friends and make a difference to CFA members and the broader community.
L: Do it. You won’t regret it.
If you’re interested in becoming a CFA peer, email peer.program@cfa. vic.gov.au or phone 03 9262 8560.