Helping the helpers: the Bushfire Recovery Project

2021 has been a tough year, from the lingering impacts of the devastating summer 19/20 bushfires to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. The arrival of the festive season for Victorians means emerging from the lengthiest period of lockdown across the globe and enjoying warmer weather and long-awaited reunions with loved ones. While some of us are celebrating, the arrival of summer will be less carefree for frontline Emergency Services workers facing disaster season. 


For many, the looming threat of disaster season can induce anxiety and distress, hitting those on the frontline particularly hard, as people who work in the emergency services sector are more than twice as likely to develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to the nature of their work. The impending anniversaries of recent high-impact bushfires, such as the devastating summer 19/20 fires, can also evoke strong emotions for those with existing mental health conditions such as PTSD.


At Phoenix Australia, we strive to help those who help others, like the heroic Emergency Services workers almost all of us have or will rely on at some point in our lives. Last year, Phoenix Australia was engaged by the Victorian Government as part of their Bushfire Recovery Mental Health and Wellbeing Package, to help support frontline workers in bushfire-affected regions. 


Our aim was to assist those impacted by the 2019-20 bushfires by providing tools to build the capacity of frontline workers to offer ongoing support to their own communities. 


With generous funding from the Federal and Victorian Departments of Health, we have been delivering free trauma-related training workshops and mentoring to emergency services personnel and frontline workers in bushfire-affected regions. The workshops, Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) and Psychological First Aid (PFA) provide best practice, trauma-informed training that helps frontline workers’ to support community members’ recovery from the bushfires, as well as supporting their own resilience and wellbeing.


TIC aims to help frontline personnel and volunteers to develop best-practice skills to interact with trauma-impacted individuals, including colleagues, in such a way that allows for their recovery. PFA is for emergency managers and supervisors, and alongside helping to reduce initial distress in others and cope better in the days and weeks following a traumatic event – such as a disaster – it can also be used to help people who become distressed months or even years after traumatic events, such as on the anniversary of a bushfire.


As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Phoenix Australia fast-tracked a five-year plan to convert our face-to-face TIC and PFA training to online training, which ensured that this essential content was still accessible to those across the country in spite of the effects of public health restrictions. As well as Zoom training, we offer flexible, fully online training which can be completed at the pace that suits individuals or their organisation. 


“The combination of COVID-19 restrictions and the scale of the bushfire impact saw a great need for easily accessible, online services.” – Alexandra Howard, Director, Disaster and Public Health Emergencies.


Since the online programs were released last year, more than 1,000 emergency services personnel, volunteers, managers and supervisors have benefited from Psychological First Aid and Trauma-informed Care training.


Helping the helpers is what we do, and we need your support to continue vital research and offering resources and training to those in need, like our frontline workers doing it tough, especially with the onset of disaster season. Donate now.