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Te Anau volunteer fire brigade chief fire officer Graeme "Possum" Moffat last year started a programme to support the mental health of his firefighters after they attended a series of traumatic crashes which took their toll on the tightknit brigade.
Called K10 to Te Anau, after a radio code for fire appliance recommissioning, the project is aimed at supporting the town’s 33 volunteer firefighters by offering them opportunities ranging from a few hours’ break to a fully-funded weekend away to relax.
The project, designed to help volunteers with their mental health, offers help separate from Fire and Emergency NZ’s peer support employee assistance counselling programmes.
"Because sometimes just talking about it is not enough, sometimes they just have to get away to get their head straight," Mr Moffat said.
The fundraising support from the Te Anau community for K10 had been "phenomenal", but while a few volunteers had made use of the programme, it had not been used as much as he would have liked.
Mr Moffat said he was prompted to start the project after his brigade responded to a crash which killed two young German tourists on the Milford highway in 2017.
The pair’s rental car collided with a tourist bus and burst into flames — at least one of the young men was thought to have survived the initial impact, but those first at the scene were beaten back by flames.
"That particular one, those two guys that went under that bus, that was kind of a triggering point for me.
"I didn’t have my rescue tender on station, we didn’t have our appliance, my tanker broke while I was out there ... I was down from a three-appliance station to one appliance."
"It was dealing with the media ... and the families involved as well.
"That one went on for three to four weeks, so that gets a bit tough sometimes, for people like myself who are self-employed."
Mr Moffat said he was pleased but surprised Otago and Southland career firefighters were leading the country in accessing employee support programmes, given the traditional "harden-up, Southern man" attitude prevalent among crews.
However, for brigades like his it could be difficult to access those programmes, he said.
"We’re such a geographically isolated place — it’s pretty hard to access the counselling support."