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Austin staff go above and beyond to help during bushfire crisis

31 January 2020

Getting showered by flying embers and blackened leaves, and experiencing complete darkness in the middle of the day, is something ED Deputy Director, Simon Judkins, won’t forget during his time in Mallacoota. 

“On the third day, the day turned to night, the darkest I had ever seen. There was no sun, no moon, no stars. The only light was the lights from the clinic. It was just black. That was quite fascinating to see, but it must have been horrifying for the people in Mallacoota when it happened for the first time and they were surrounded by fires,” he said.

Simon is involved in the Field Emergency Medical Officer Program which includes emergency physicians and anesthetists assisting in disaster responses.

He was called on New Year’s Day to provide medical assistance after bushfires ravaged Mallacoota 24 hours prior.

“We didn’t really know what we were going into – the role of being an emergency physician means you sort of just deal with it. I knew what my role was, to look after the acutely unwell patients and provide support, and we would just deal with the consequences,” he said.

It was a long journey to get to the isolated East Gippsland town – including a six hour boat trip from Paynesville – with wind and smoke hampering efforts.

His team was there to support the local GP clinic and look after critically unwell patients who were unable to be evacuated, as well as liaising with the local health department response team, evacuation team and the navy to try and prioritise who needed to get out.

“There were a lot of people with respiratory issues we needed to evacuate and quite a lot of people with mental health problems and anxiety,” he said.

During the third day he was there the wind changed and that was when the darkness set in.

“You knew that obviously the wind was changing - you got that orange glow and everything went pitch black,” Simon said.

He was there for five days and flew out by helicopter over the fire front.

“It was just extraordinary – the discolouration of the clouds and the sky, it just looked awful. Seeing this slowly advancing fire front was incredible. It was an interesting adventure,” he said.

Many other Austin Health staff have also provided support during the bushfire crisis. Here are some examples to show how our staff have gone above and beyond to help:

-  The sustainability team has operated as a hub for donations and has received items from at least a dozen locations in the hospital - including various wards and departments such as Endocrinology and ONJ Pharmacy - which are being distributed to wildlife rescue and care efforts in fire affected regions. The team collects the supplies from the wards and sorts, stores and packs them in their office. Boxes have been sent to South Australia and there are more ready to go. 

-  Staff in 6 South donated medical supplies they no longer needed such as non-sterile (but unused) gloves and dressing as well as expired IV fluids to help wildlife rehabilitation efforts.

- The mental health team is on standby to be deployed to bushfire affected areas. The details regarding when they will go and for how long will be confirmed.

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