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First Responder Story: ‘There are little triggers that still set off memories of the fires’

I started volunteering with the RFS just before the fires hit last summer – talk about being thrown into the deep end! 

A friend who was already in the brigade suggested I start to volunteer, to give myself a break from being at home with my five kids – and I love it.  

Last fire season was hectic. It was all go-go-go, it was very full on, and then you go home and have to try and unwind and go back to normal life, which is a challenge at first. 

I volunteer in communications, and there were some pretty tough things coming over the radio. People had lost their properties and lost their lives. I know that seeing things is hard, and to hear them is hard as well.  

I did some night shifts until three or four in the morning, and I didn’t really get to spend much time with the kids. That was rough, especially because they’re used to me being there for them all the time. 

They understood that I was doing something for the community, though. They were really accepting of that. They’d drop in with supplies – like some lollies – to keep me going. When things started to quieten down, they came in with me sometimes. And my partner helped the kids to donate some clothes and bedding. They were all helping behind the scenes – and without them helping behind the scenes, people like me can’t volunteer. 

Getting over a summer like that is tough. There are little triggers that still set off memories of the fires. 

We’ve all talked to each other in the brigade: we look out for each other and check that we’re all okay, and not bottling it up. But it’s also been important to learn to switch off from it.  

A friend from the brigade recently spotted Fortem’s surfing program and sent a link to me, and I thought it was worth giving it a go. I took two of my kids, and it was so good to have quality time with them.  

I feel like I’m making up for the time I missed with them last summer. 

One of the kids had surfed before, but the other and I hadn’t. They both managed to stand up in the first session, and I got very close – my next goals are to stand up, and to not do another belly flop! – and we had lots of fun and lots of laughs.  

It was really good to see the children laughing and connecting with other kids whose families are similar – they know they’re not alone in any of this. 

It also gave me a chance to relax and completely get my mind off anything and everything, and recharge my batteries. It’s good to feel supported. 

As told to Fortem Australia 

If you or someone you know needs immediate support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.