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Fighting for Better Protection for WA Volunteer First Responders


Photo credit: Captain Colin Keys, Brunswick Junction VFRS

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Presumption Update From Executive Officer Tim Sonsee


Since publishing ‘Better Protection for WA Firefighters – Unless You Don’t Get Paid To Do The Job', the united volunteer emergency services associations reconvened, and a request was made to the Minister of Emergency Services, Hon Stephen Dawson MLC to meet in person to communicate the deep disappointment and concerns volunteers have regarding the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Presumption legislation. The letter requesting the meeting is available to read below:


Invitation to meet with Association Presidents 6 December 2023
.pdf
Download PDF • 174KB

We appreciated the prompt response from Hon Stephen Dawson MLC to our letter, and on 20 December 2023 State Emergency Services Volunteer Association of Western Australia President Greg Cook, Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades Western Australia Association President Lorraine Webster and myself met with Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Commissioner Darren Klemm AFSM, Minister for Emergency Services Hon Stephen Dawson MLC, and Mathew Dixon, the Senior Policy Advisor for Emergency Services, to obtain answers as to why volunteer first responders were excluded from the PTSD presumption legislation amendment.


Hon Stephen Dawson MLC listened to the Associations’ concerns. He explained that:

  • The Workers Compensation and Injury Management Act 1981 (WCIM Act) applies to employed workers only and does not apply to volunteers.

  • The PTSD presumption only covers firefighters who are covered by the worker's compensation scheme.

  • The amendment moved by a Member of the Legislative Council would have not addressed the area of concern that we have raised, as the application of the Act does not apply to volunteers.

  • This Act covers paid employees, not volunteers and therefore under scrutiny from lawyers and legal professionals would not stand in a court of law if contested.

  • The Workers Compensation and Injury Management Act 1981 was not the correct Act to place the PTSD presumption legislation for our volunteers.

  • The Labor Government would look to address issues of importance to the volunteer Associations during the release of the Emergency Services Act 2024.

  • He understands that PTSD presumption is at the top of the list of importance for our Associations.  

 

By no means is the campaign for change over

The following are all symptoms of PTSD and can hinder a person’s ability to properly source the appropriate treatment and then successfully navigate the often difficult and complicated Insurance and injury claim processes:

  • Difficulty in controlling emotions.

  • the ability to rationalise and to use logic

  • irrational fear

  • anxiety

  • reluctance to seek help and

  • impaired ability to connect with others.

 

The amount of courage and vulnerability shown by an individual to ask for and seek help in relation to PTSD cannot be understated.


The united volunteer emergency associations would like to see the Insurance Commission of Western Australia (ICWA) and the injury management process within DFES reviewed and updated.


The current policy with ICWA requires volunteers to complete incident reports, workers compensation paperwork, and volunteers are required to retell their traumatic experience/s. 


We believe that the Government has a duty of care to conduct a review to confirm that the ICWA policy and procedure is supportive of the individual seeking assistance, and that there is a presumption that all volunteer first responders diagnosed with PTSD occurred as the result of trauma faced whilst volunteering in emergency services.


More so for regional volunteers, there are hurdles to pass in order to obtain compensation such as:

  • Limited mental health resources within rural Western Australia.

  • The cost of travel for our volunteers to mental health appointments.

  • Isolation from both family and friends if having to travel to regional centres or metropolitan area for appropriate treatment.

  • Fear of leaving their familiar environment to seek further help.

  • Reluctance to travel due to sense of responsibility to provide a service to the community.

The united volunteer emergency associations will be working with the Government and DFES to see all system obstacles reviewed and if possible, removed from the process.

The Association would like to work with DFES’s Wellness and DFES’s Mental Health and Wellbeing branches to develop further resources and training packages for our volunteer firefighters such as:

  • mental health first aid

  • myth busting information around PTSD

  • PTSD frequently asked questions

  • current volunteer coverage

  • how to obtain early intervention from DFES for yourself, a family member or colleague and

  • treatment and recovery.


Please remember to regularly access resources in the ‘Thriving at DFES Strategy’, which can be found on DFES’s Volunteer Hub.


The media has been interested in discussing the topic. Listen here from around 1:17 to an interview I conducted with 6PR on 3 January 2004.


Watch this space for a letter from the united volunteer emergency associations to all volunteer first responders in Western Australia about what we are doing together to campaign for change.


What Can You Do to Encourage Change?

While we work on building the evidence to have the legislation updated, we need our volunteer firefighters on every occasion to reach out to DFES Wellness Branch by emailing wellness.branch@dfes.wa.gov.au or through your captain or district officer when there has been a traumatic incident.


Don’t Miss Out on The Opportunity to Voice Your Opinion

The united volunteer emergency services association presidents are meeting again this week to create a strategy moving forward, Your ideas and suggestions would be appreciated, which can be emailed to voice@vfrs.asn.au.


Voice Your Opinion & Show Support for Your Vollies

We would like to invite everyone, including emergency service personnel, to have a say on this topic and to show your support for WA's volunteers.

Importantly, we would like to encourage those in the lives of first responders to speak up and share your thoughts and experiences. We understand that PTSD is not limited to the person suffering directly, and how family and friends can experience the side effects.

If you would like to voice your opinion or have a suggestion that you would like considered for the strategy towards finding a resolution, please send an email to voice@vfrs.asn.au.

 

Please include:

  • Your full name

  • Your contact details

  • Who you are, for example:

  • If you are a volunteer, where / who for

  • Your relationship (if any) to a first responder

  • Your feedback, opinion and suggestions

Your email will be shared with the other volunteer emergency service associations, and suggestions will be taken into consideration with strategy planning and may be presented to the Minister for Emergency Services.

 

If you have any questions or issues you would like to discuss with me, you can call me on 0427 800 038 or contact me by email at executive@vfrs.asn.au.

 

Tim Sonsee

Executive Officer

 

If you would like to show your support for the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Services Association of WA and the work we do to champion our firefighters, a donation can be made here.

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