By BEV JORDAN
Fiona Briggs was on holiday on the South Coast of NSW at the beginning of 2020 when the Hills Division St John Ambulance volunteer put on her uniform and spent over a week providing First Aid at the Cobargo bushfire relief centre.
Fellow Hills volunteer, Damian Orts, was deployed to Narooma on January 1 and spent a week helping hundreds of traumatised residents during the bushfires.
Road closures meant it took two days for him to get back home. Both were presented with National Emergency Service medals by Emergency Services Minister David Elliott at a special ceremony last week.
Damien was deployed to Narooma as part of a team of four volunteers prepared to provide support for approximately 800 evacuees.
“On arrival we learnt from the RFS that the wind changed and more people would be arriving at the end of the second day 1500 evacuees signed up at the evacuation centre.”
By the third day a second venue was utilised as the overflow was full. There was no power or mobile reception for the first five days and a shortage of all kinds of medications.
“Luckily we took in with us enough supplies to cover all needs until the roads opened again,” said Damian. “We not only provided first aid and support to evacuees and firefighters but also provided mental first aid to those who experienced the loss of property and loved ones.”
He had completed his Mental First Aid training certification just a few months before the deployment, and said it was a rewarding experience “to apply those skills and help people through their hardest times”.
“I joined St John Ambulance to be able to continue developing and improving my health care skills while giving back to the community, but later, I’ve found that one of the greatest benefits of volunteering with St John is not just the friendship or professional and practical skills we learn when on training or on duties, but also warmth and emotions we feel with every experience,” he said.
Fiona, a registered nurse, said: “I joined St John because I wanted to give back to the community. When the kids were young I volunteered in the sporting areas but when they grew up I thought what a great opportunity to give back in an area that I loved and that is nursing so here I am five years later and loving it.”
The awards night was held at the Balcombe Heights Estate and saw 19 Hills Division St John Ambulance volunteers receive awards. Some received multiple awards including Damian who also received a Certificate of Appreciation for volunteering during this year’s floods, a Grade VI Officer Warrant and the National Emergency Medal.
There were 13 members who received St John Service Awards for their years of service to the organisation/community including Chris Khong (joined 2000) and Diane Anderson (2001) and 11 received Certificates of Appreciation for assisting the community during the floods of 2021. The Hills Division manned the evacuation centre set up in the Castle Hills RSL.
The Hills Division of St John Ambulance has 69 members. Ages range from 18 up to 89. To find out more about joining St John Ambulance go to the website www. stjohnnsw.com.au and click on the link ‘Volunteer with Us’.
Superintendent Jennie Page said: “I am truly proud of the commitment, dedication and selflessness of the Hills members. I look forward to another year of us working in ours and the wider community. Providing both physical and psychological first aid.”