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Creating a network of support

Published 22/11/2012

Victoria State Emergency Service is taking the lead in reinvigorating the Victoria Emergency Services Peer Alliance (VESPA).

The Alliance brings together the people involved in Peer Support and Chaplaincy services across Victoria’s emergency service organisations.

The first iteration of the Alliance started in the early 1990s, inspired by Dr Jeff Mitchell’s visit to Australia and  the promotion of the Critical Incident Stress Model of early intervention which utilizes Peers to provide education and support to emergency service members following critical incidents. .

The organisation, then known as the Combined Emergency Services Critical Incident Stress Advisory Committee (CESCISAC), was the first to bring together the Peer Support co-ordinators, Clinical Directors and Peer and Chaplaincy managers from across the state’s emergency services sector.

Over the years, organisations broadened their methodological approaches and adopted a variety of models to assist their members. By popular consensus, CESCISAC became the Victorian Emergency Services Peer Alliance (VESPA)

Victoria SES Clinical Director Peter Kueffer said the network’s value was evident during and after the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009.

“Everyone was able to support each other throughout, both within our own organisations and across all of them,” he said.

Despite this, for a variety of reasons,   VESPA had ceased meeting by the end of 2010.

Deciding that it was time for meetings to resume, Mr Kueffer reached out agencies this year to gauge the level of interest in reconstituting the group, and found it to be very high.

The reformed Alliance met at Victoria SES’ State Headquarters on October 15 for an informal get-together over lunch and focused on the re-establishment of relationships and the introduction of new members .All agencies share a commitment to the principles of Psychological First Aid to support members.

Mr Kueffer was joined at the meeting by Frank Mokrovic, Martin Park, Kate Stubberfield, Joe Gazis from Victoria Police, Norm McWilliam from St John Ambulance Australia, Rod Egglestone from the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Jade Bibby from the Country Fire Authority, David Cooper from Ambulance Victoria, Glynnise Mathews from Department of Sustainability and Environment  and James Gallacher and Trevor Miles from Parks Victoria.

Apologies were recorded from Colin Horwell from Ambulance Victoria and Sue Jamieson from the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.

Peer Support Lunch

“It’s was fairly informal, which worked very well,” Mr Kueffer said.

“We all reported on the issues at hand and the general consensus was that there is a great deal of value in meeting,” he said.

“Although there are some differences in methodology between agencies, education and early intervention by Peers and Chaplains was seen as highly beneficial for emergency responders. As in Black Saturday, we can be fully active and available to support members in the field.”

Future meetings and guest speakers are already being planned, and digital media will be used to continue the momentum of the meeting.