Bushfire crisis – a note from the RFDS Victorian CEO

Date published

16 Jan 2020

The continued devastation of the bushfires across Victoria and Australia is having a profound effect on all of us. The beautiful and peaceful landscape of rural Victoria has been replaced with dark skies, smoke, fire and uncertainty.

Our heartfelt thoughts go out to everyone directly or indirectly affected by these bushfires and while we are all pleased to see a brief reprieve in recent days, we know that crisis continues for many people. We have all felt the emotion when we hear stories of loss and trauma to people and animals, and it may be some time before we fully understand the full impact.

We offer our sincere gratitude to all of the firefighters and emergency services personnel who have worked tirelessly to protect communities. Your brave efforts will be remembered and admired for many years to come.

What RFDS is doing

This organisation was built on the fundamental purpose of supporting those in need. It is in our DNA and at the forefront of every action we take – and we have been working hard with all of our partners and local communities to ensure that we not only support our clients and staff through this period, but also well beyond when the disaster efforts have passed.

At a Federation level, all CEOs of the various Sections of RFDS have been in communique offering cross border assistance wherever possible, and Victoria has been a major contributor to needs in other states.

Throughout Victoria we are working hard with local communities to determine the best support we can offer throughout the crisis and well beyond. As you can understand, these needs can change quickly, and we will listen to and work with the local community and emergency services to provide the most appropriate support as required.

Providing support and care

It is important that our services work with the emergency response, and so we remain in constant contact – and respond accordingly – to the requests of government.

Specifically, we have been asked to support the community of Mallacoota, with one of our mental health clinicians, Diana Boyd, already providing care to people in the town. It took several days for Diana to safely enter the town with travel in and out remaining an issue.

Also at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services, we have a Flying Doctor Dental team ready to travel to Mallacoota when instructed to provide further care to people in need.

Furthermore, Omeo District Health communicated a need for increased mental health services in Omeo, Orbost, Mallacoota and Swifts Creek. We are linking them into our telehealth platform to provide support through the existing clinical team, and bringing on casual mental health workers to provide short-term services across Gippsland when safe to do so.

In circumstances where we have had to cancel appointments with existing clients, our Wellbeing Clinicians have been carrying out welfare checks over the phone and supporting local bush nurses.

Our patient transport vehicles have been deployed across the affected areas and have been evacuating residents from aged care and health facilities as required, and providing extra shifts to support Ambulance Victoria on a daily basis.

Supporting a rebuild

We are all aware that the effects of the bushfires will remain long after the crisis is over. As one of the principal health care providers to rural and regional Victorians, we are committed to supporting the affected communities throughout the rebuild.

We will continue to work with local communities and government to implement additional services when appropriate and remain dedicated to sharing the journey back to healthy communities.

Acknowledgement of our staff

Times of crisis bring out the absolute best in people, and some of the stories I have heard about our staff makes me incredibly proud – and I would like to share just a few with you.

A number of our staff members are also volunteer fire fighters. I would like to acknowledge their resolve at this time, and the efforts of their colleagues who have taken on extra shifts to cover them. A number of staff members have also had to defend their own properties and those of their neighbours, with three known staff required to evacuate their homes. 

Staff from around Gippsland as well as the metro region have been backfilling shifts when affected staff have been required to evacuate or were stuck on the wrong side of road blocks and unable to work.

Chris Jenson and Aslinda Gale from our patient transport team have been sourcing appropriate out-of-date medical supplies such as bandages for Koala rescue centres. 

Naomi Booker from our patient transport team is part of the ‘Need for Feed’ project helping to deliver hay and animal feed to places like Orbost and Buchan.

These stories reinforce what I have always known. Our staff are not just dedicated and committed to supporting those in need – they are, quite simply, great people.

It is important that we look out for each other and ourselves during these difficult times.

Thank you again to all of those who continue to support those in need.

Yours sincerely,
Scott Chapman
Chief Executive, RFDS Victoria