Paul Chew: What does the CFA’s current Peer Support Program do and how does it help the CFA team?
Fiona McKinnon: As an emergency services organisation that responds to not only fires but also other critical incidents, CFA’s volunteers respond in a high-pressure environment with the potential for exposure to potentially traumatic events. CFA’s Peer Support Program coordinates 170 volunteer peers trained to provide support to our volunteer membership base across the state.
They are activated during campaign fire and other emergency events to support our operational response and create an environment of psychological safety.
The peers are also available throughout the year to support CFA members experiencing periods of high stress due to personal circumstances.
Their role is to provide the first line of psychological support, listening, acknowledging and normalising member’s experiences and supporting referrals into professional services as required. This group very effectively supports our operational volunteers.
During the last fire season, it became evident there was a need to evolve the peer support program to include a new stream to ensure our corporate employees have appropriate and sufficient peer support they can access when required.
PC: How did the relationship between the CFA and ANZ come about?
FM: ANZ has been a longtime supporter of CFA through donations, encouraging customers to donate through a number of channels, and most recently encouraging employee donations through the last bushfire season. This year ANZ reached out with a generous gift with the interest of supporting the wellbeing of CFA members. After some collaborative discussions, it was decided the best fit was to support the new Corporate Peer Program.
PC: What support has ANZ’s contribution provided?
FM: The contribution is assisting CFA to fund and implement the new program to support the mental health and wellbeing of corporate employees.
Over the next three years, the new Corporate Peer Program will provide specialised training to 60 CFA employees who volunteer to participate as peers. The program will provide tailored mental health and wellbeing support to corporate employees working in incident control centres across Victoria.
The trained peers are a contact point for individuals in need and offer a brief, practical intervention – engaging and supporting them, identifying needs, and referring them to relevant support services where appropriate. The relationship is not intended to be an ongoing or therapeutic one. Peer support programs have become an important ‘prevention/early intervention’ pillar in strategic wellbeing programs.
The implementation of the Corporate Peer Program will also contribute to a help-seeking and psychologically safe culture at CFA.
CFA has already completed the initial recruitment process and commenced training 20 new peers. Our goal is to have this first Peer Support team trained and ready for the upcoming summer season.
PC: What type of training will the new program provide?
FM: The current Peer Training Program delivered to volunteers has been re-developed to meet the different needs experienced by corporate staff. The training has also been modified for online delivery as needed during the current challenging COVID-19 environment.
The new Corporate Peer Program training will include:
- A four-day intensive peer specific training program including Psychological First Aid (PFA). This is a best practice approach to responding to people impacted by potentially traumatic events. The peer specific training also includes training in active listening, making effective referrals and self-care;
- Two days of Mental Health First Aid; and
- A one-day course, ‘The Working Mind First Responders’ which supports changing culture around mental health issues in organisations.
PC: Can you explain the importance peer support programs for organisations like the CFA?
FM: The CFA plays a unique and valuable role within Victoria's emergency sector. We work proudly with Victorian communities to deliver on our vision of fire safety and preparedness. While our volunteer firefighters are front and centre, there is an entire engine room of professional, technical, mechanical and administrative staff working tirelessly behind the scenes. Their contribution is vital, and their wellbeing is of paramount importance for CFA to continue to carry out the important work they do for the people of Victoria in what can be a highly stressful environment.
PC: What do you think of the challenges of the upcoming summer?
FM: We know any bushfire season in Victoria has the potential to be a serious one and this year will be even more challenging in the current COVID-19 environment.
We urge all members of the community to know their fire risk by:
· Taking the time to understand their personal fire risk;
· Making a fire plan including triggers to leave, what they’ll take, where they’ll go and how they’ll get there;
· Preparing their property to minimise the chance of property damage during a fire, even if they plan to leave early; and
· How to stay up-to-date on Fire Danger Ratings via the VicEmergency website or app daily to understand the fire risk in their local area.
For more information go to https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare