A MAYLANDS firefighter was honoured today for his role in breaking down stigma surrounding mental health in the State’s emergency services.
Robert ‘Hank’ Kingma was received an Australian Fire Service Medal as part of the Queen’s Birthday honours for his key role in the development of a wellness branch at the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES).
Mr Kingma joined the fire brigade in 1976 and six years ago took on a role at DFES as a wellness officer and joined a team of psychologists, a chaplain and later an exercise physiologist in the new branch.
“The reality is that emergency services are likely to see more than the average person in the street would, there’s a greater demand on those people,” he said.
“There have always been issues with mental health in any emergency service or military service.”
Mr Kingma said the branch started in the “infant stages” but recommendations from a 2012 parliamentary inquiry into support offered to emergency services gave DFES a “push” to begin a peer support program.
As a qualified trainer, he started to deliver Mental Health First Aid training to staff and volunteers two years’ ago; there are now eight in-house instructors.
“Over the years, I didn’t realise it at the time, there was a lot of people I knew and worked with who I subsequently realise had mental health issues and they left the job and that was a great shame,” he said.
“If you can point out signs and symptoms to people so they can observe, not only for themselves but for others, and things they can do to maintain good mental health, that’s fantastic.”
Mr Kingma took the lead in two of first large-scale wellness responses for DFES; the response to the Parkerville and Margaret River bushfires.
He said career firefighters, volunteers and bushfire brigades were all involved.
“We never really had anything in place where we captured all those people and at an appropriate time followed up with those people afterwards,” he said.
“The people who lived directly in the vicinity of the fire got direct intervention… we sent psychologists with members of the wellness branch to those brigades.”
“We followed up with calls to every captain of every brigade.”