CFA peer promotes the importance of listening

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A North East firefighter is encouraging people to seek a genuine check-in of family, friends and colleagues, as CFA marks R U OK? Day.


Rhett Chalwell is a 2nd Lieutenant at Bright Fire Brigade and a peer support officer in CFA’s District 23 and District 24, and said many people just need someone to listen.

“Because of the social disconnect of everyone at the moment, it’s probably more important to ask people if they’re ok in a genuine way, rather than just off the cuff,” he said.

“When someone asks if you’re ok, it’s easy to brush it off and say ‘I’m fine’, but often if there’s a follow up asking if you’re really ok, there might be a starting point for a conversation.

While mental health should be a priority for everyone, every day, R U OK? Day is a national reminder to stay connected and have conversations that can help others through difficult times.

This year’s theme is ‘Are they really OK? Ask them today’, which is in response to new research revealing 22% of Australians aren’t reaching out because they don’t think someone needs their help.

Lieutenant Chalwell said anyone can simply ask their friends, families, and colleagues if they’re ok.

“Everyone has different challenges. We’re around the Albury Wodonga region so there are people on both sides of the border who can’t even talk to each other,” he said.

“Phone connection is great but you don’t get to see a clear vision of how someone’s going so it’s important to ask ‘are you really ok?’”

CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan said a Wellbeing Support Line provides CFA members and their immediate families with an accessible mental health and wellbeing service 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“This line is available for any level of support and advice, including following a potentially traumatic event,” CO Heffernan said.

“CFA offers a number of wellbeing programs, including the Member Assistance Program (MAP), Peer Support Program and Chaplaincy Program, among others.”

Lieutenant Chalwell said for those who do want to reach out, the process generally begins when members ring the wellbeing support hotline.

“They can choose to talk to the members assist program or peers or a chaplain. If they want to speak with a peer, the District peer coordinator will be informed and will allocate us local peers to help out,” he said.

“We listen when people are struggling and can give them more options if they need it, but many people I’ve spoken with in my peer role don’t need further help, they simply need to have a chat with someone.

“My role as peer support officer means I’ve done training in psychological first aid and other things, but the way I see it, I’m just a glorified listener.”

Those interested in learning more about R U OK? Day, visit the website at

If you are not okay, or if you notice a change in someone you know, CFA volunteers, staff and their families can contact the CFA Wellbeing Support Line on 1800 959 232 to access free, confidential support that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

The support services include the Member Assistance Program with Psychologists and Counsellors, Peer Support Program, Chaplaincy Program, Let Me Know web-based app, as well as other services provided by the Organisational Wellbeing Team.


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Submitted by CFA Media