This week CFA is celebrating International Week of the Deaf 2020. CFA has many members across the organisation who are deaf and this week gives us the opportunity to share their stories.
Glenaladale Fire Brigade member Peter Busch has been a CFA member for more than 45 years. Being deaf, Peter often has to lip read and use sign language while at the brigade.
“I am one of two deaf boys in my family so I have been signing since I was a young boy. I learned sign language from my older brother Chris, who is profoundly deaf," Peter said.
“My main method of communication is speech but I am involved in the deaf community and so I naturally code switch between the two languages, Auslan (Australian Sign Language) and English.
Peter’s father first signed him up to the local Hillside Fire Brigade when he was 17 years old.
“I’ve been a volunteer for 45 years now and I’m also a life member. I’ve volunteered at the Glenaladale Fire Brigade for the past 20 years or so.
“As a deaf man, I rely on my eyes all the time and so everything needs to be visual for me, I need to make sure I 'm watching what’s going on as my eyes are my ears.
“I also rely on the emergency call-out pager as I cannot rely on telephone calls to be alerted. I wear hearing aids too and these days there are cool devices such as the Roger Pen.
“We have established signs/gestures like ‘thumbs up’ ‘stop’ 'slow' ‘go’ ‘turn it off’, they are all visual and are well understood by the brigade.
“However, it’s not standardised Auslan, it's more of a slang language used within the brigade. One day I would love the brigade to do a basic Auslan course.”
Glenaladale Fire Brigade Captain Rick O’haire said working alongside Peter is a joy.
“I have known Peter for about ten years, but really since I took over as captain seven years ago.
“When Peter is on the fire line I make sure the rest of the crew is aware he’s deaf, remembering that at times we often work alongside crews from other brigades.
“When Peter is on the hose I ensure that his number two stays close enough to tap him on the shoulder to gain his attention.
“Peter is unstoppable with a hose in his hands. Pre COVID-19, when training I make sure the brigade instructor talks directly to Peter so he can lip read.”
Rick said that Peter is an outstanding driver and they are often side-by-side on the fireground.
“During the last fire season I needed to do a check on the condition of the fire break to get an idea of its condition because the information coming out of the ICC didn't correspond to local knowledge.
“The fire break was very rough going and after a short while the brigade tanker couldn't continue so Peter and I had to use the brigade ultra-light with Peter at the wheel.
“Peter is an excellent driver, well versed in all aspects of 4X4 driving and he managed to get us through to the fire break.
“I could then report to the ICC that the section of the fire break we travelled was not suitable for tankers, an important piece of information.”
All new CFA members are required to complete a medical declaration form and have a medical practitioner conduct a medical assessment if someone presents with a declared medical condition which may affect their ability to perform their duties in a safe manner.
CFA is provided with a report of any limitations or restrictions to duties that will be applied to ensure all members are working in a safe environment.
Improving your own capability when engaging with people who are deaf or have a disability
Set some time to increase your understanding of disability by completing the Disability Inclusion online learning module available on the CFA Learning Hub.
Perhaps you could check out some of the explanatory videos aimed at emergency services personnel to support people who are deaf or deafblind.
Or learn some key signs for use in emergencies or get involved in the ‘Hello, my name is’ campaign.