3 July 2023

Beyond Brave: Brave and human in the uniform with Tony Walker ASM 

Tony Walker ASM has almost four decades of experience in the ambulance and emergency services sector, working across a range of senior clinical, operational and leadership roles, most recently as Chief Executive Officer of Ambulance Victoria where he led significant transformation to improve the health and wellbeing of their workforce and their response to the community prior to retiring from the role in late 2022.  

At our Beyond Brave summit, Fortem Managing Director and Co-Founder John Bale spoke to Tony about his work during the COVID-19 pandemic and how he prioritised mental health at Ambulance Victoria. “During the pandemic we saw a 25% increase of staff affected by the trauma of COVID along with partners losing jobs, families becoming ill, etc. so we worked on responsive programs to include families. 

I dropped my personal stigma around mental health by opening up a conversation about it. It has to be normalised. In some ways we are well placed for that as a community. Young people talk about it in a way that we never did. I have some faith in that being a starting point. With graduates, we talk about it. We want to normalise it from the start and not wait 20 years for them to reach breaking point. We want to be proactive. We want to catch early signs.” 

Tony also spoke about the need for first responders to prioritise taking leave and looking after their wellbeing. “We throw ourselves into the deep end and it becomes all consuming. What I did was focus on simple strategies, such as sleeping well.” 

“Where I made the mistake was cancelling my leave. I said I’d postpone it but of course things didn’t stop, and I started running on empty and my family were the first to suffer. I was playing no part in the family responsibilities; it was all on my wife. I didn’t recharge myself when I should have. We have a shared responsibility to say to our colleagues to go and enjoy their break because we want them to be their best.” 

Click here to view the full session.