The firefighter said, “The rehab and health monitoring equipment were a great discussion point between a lot of the crews on scene who’d never heard of CFA having them or knew anything like it existed”.
The increased awareness of firefighter health and safety, especially since the 2009 fires and the Hazelwood mine fire, has significantly increased the expectations and demands for health monitoring and rehabilitation. For example, the Emergency Management Victoria standard for managing carbon monoxide emissions requires health monitoring for large, extended or complex fires that produce significant carbon monoxide and particulates.
CFA now has 16 rehab units run by volunteer brigades and one team at CFA headquarters. The brigades have recruited new members with health qualifications to take up this role, and members who no longer want to be involved in firefighting can have a new role in the brigade helping with the rehab unit.
These rehab units are making a real difference. There has been a reduction in the number of heat-related incidents and a significant reduction in claims for hospital treatment in the past two years – the period of rapid growth in the number of rehab units around the state.
As well as supporting CFA firefighters at an incident, these units have been requested to support DEWLP, MFB and Victoria Police over the past two years. Feedback from other agencies has been very positive and complimentary. After a recent event in Melbourne, Acting Senior-Sergeant Glen Finlay, Victoria Police said, “Just a quick note to say thanks for arranging Mernda CFA to attend our event at Catani Gardens today, especially in this heat.
“While we had some sceptical police members to start with, they all commented on how effective the forearm cooling was in reducing heat discomfort. We only had one member who was sent home from the event due to heat stress, which is an exceptional result given the large number of police who attended.”
All members of rehab units are trained in firefighter cooling methods, hydration practices, and first-aid injury management. The health professionals are additionally trained to use health monitoring equipment approved for use in this role.
Brigades supply their own rehab equipment and transport vehicles, and CFA supplies the medical monitoring equipment and training for brigades.
Where they are based
All health and rehab teams operate in volunteer brigades as an additional resource for the district. The rehab units support our members during operations with cooling techniques, health monitoring, rehydration, snacks and shaded rest areas.
We have units at District 7 HQ Brigade, District 22 HQ Brigade, District 23 HQ Brigade, District 24 HQ Brigade, Mernda, Yellingbo, Dandenong, Smythesdale, Rochester, Golden Square, Yallourn North, Paynesville, Wonthaggi, Mildura, Maffra, and CFA HQ Burwood East.
When they should be called
Districts have developed pre-plans and standard operating procedures for using the rehab teams. They can be used at structure fires, hazmat incidents, grass and scrub fires, bushfires, and any incident that may be long in duration, be in extreme conditions, or involve a large number of personnel.
Photo: Glen Finlay