PROFESSIONAL firefighters suffering from post-traumatic stress injury and other mental health issues will be able to quickly access targeted services thanks to the Victorian Government's delivery of a Centre of Excellence for emergency service workers.
The United Firefighters Union of Victoria (UFU) welcomed the Labor Government's announcement that it has committed $6 million in establishing the centre, which will guarantee Victorian professional firefighters have access to world class support and care.
"Professional firefighters are exposed to trauma everyday through the course of performing their duties," secretary of the UFU Victorian Branch, Peter Marshall said. "Underneath their protective clothing, they're human beings -- the accumulated trauma they are exposed to in the course of performing their duties takes a heavy toll on their mental and physical health.
"Victorian professional firefighters serve and protect members of the community and do so without wanting accolades. It is refreshing to see that this silent dedication, which results in firefighters sometimes sacrificing their own work through the performance of their duties, has been recognised by the Andrews Government.
"The UFU welcomes the Andrews Government's guarantee that when professional firefighters need support, help will be there."
The United Firefighters Union has long campaigned for greater protection for professional firefighters. On a daily basis, they are exposed to the impact of responding to incidents that involve death, trauma and tragedy. This accumulated exposure takes a toll on the physical and psychological wellbeing of professional firefighters. A report by Newcastle University found that 68 percent of Victorian career firefighters showed symptoms of moderate to serious levels of post-traumatic stress inhury (PTSI).
"Extensive research conducted in Australia and internationally has shown that first responders, including professional firefighters, suffer PTSI, depression and other psychological illnesses at a much higher rate than the population," Mr Marshall said.
"If left untreated this can lead to alcohol and drug abuse, relationship breakdowns and even suicide. Providing specialised support and making it available early on means people can manage the pressure of their work."
The centre is the first of its kind in Australia. First responders will be able to be quickly referred to the dedicated specialists working in the centre by their GPs. The centre will also invest in training for health professionals to support frontline responders and internationally recognised research.
"We are pleased to see that the Andrews Government is protecting the protectors," Mr Marshall said.