Fire service welcomes cuddly recruits

Treasurer Andrew Rawsthorne and Senior Deputy Captain Ron Hocking from Forbes Central Brigade with some of the Gentle Bears provided to the Mid Lachlan Rural Fire Service.
Treasurer Andrew Rawsthorne and Senior Deputy Captain Ron Hocking from Forbes Central Brigade with some of the Gentle Bears provided to the Mid Lachlan Rural Fire Service.

Fifty near recruits, in the form of 'Gentle Bears' have arrived at the Mid Lachlan Rural Fire Service headquarters in Forbes.

The bears are available to support and care for children across the fire service district who experience traumatic incidents, with another 2,500 bears to follow across the state in 2020.

The Mid Lachlan Valley combines the Rural Fire Districts of Forbes, Lachlan, Parkes and Weddin with the headquarters based in Forbes.

The Mid Lachlan Valley Team will distribute its 50 Gentle Bears to local brigades.

The Gentle Bears will then be stored in NSW RFS emergency service vehicles and handed out to children experiencing traumatic events such as serious traffic accidents, fires and life-threatening situations.

The bears are an emotional aid which can distract a child's attention from an immediate, distressing situation by providing a recognisable, reassuring and safe object to latch onto.

They have even proved helpful for adults and elderly people who are distressed and need something to comfort them during a high stress situation.

Senior Deputy Captain Ron Hocking and Treasurer Andrew Rawsthorne from Forbes Central Brigade welcomed the kind donation and said they will be putting the bears in their two appliances for distribution when needed.

Forbes Central Brigade attend many motor vehicle crashes each year and sadly, there are often small children involved.

Mr Hocking said the bears will be a helpful tool which will allow the brigade to support these children during what is often a very distressing time.

Gentle Bear was the brainchild of Gallagher Bassett and the South Australian Police Department who wanted to do more to help the children they were coming into contact with when responding to 000 calls.

"Gentle Bear acts as an emotional aid for children in emergency situations like house fires or serious road traffic accidents," said Gallagher Bassett CEO, John McNamara.

"These bears distract a child's attention from the immediate, distressing situation by providing a reassuring and safe object to latch on to."

Gallagher Bassett has partnered with Insurance and Care NSW (icare) to bring Gentle Bear to NSW.

"Volunteer firefighters do an amazing job taking care of the community in times of crisis, however, the trauma associated with these situations can negatively impact the mental health of volunteers," said icare's General Manager of Agency Engagement, Britt Coombe.

Research has shown that giving support to others can reduce physiological stress responses during times of trauma, with the act of giving itself contributing to beneficial health outcomes.

"Gentle Bear represented an opportunity for us to support the mental health and wellbeing of NSW's volunteer firefighters. We hope Gentle Bear will not only benefit the children who are affected by emergency situations, but that it will also look out for the wellbeing of our volunteer fire fighters who are able to 'doing something' in a situation that can otherwise make them feel powerless," Ms Coombe said.