The Cudgegong Rural Fire Service District has taken delivery of 25 Gentle Bears, which are designed to support and care for children who experience traumatic incidents.
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 triple-zero (000) calls for assistance.
"Gentle Bear acts as an emotional aid for children in emergency situations like house fires or serious road traffic accidents," John McNamara, Gallagher Bassett CEO, said.
"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 now partnered with Insurance and Care NSW (icare) to bring Gentle Bear to NSW, after recognising that the idea could play a role protecting RFS volunteers.
"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," Britt Coombe, icare's general manager of agency engagement, said.
"As the workers compensation insurer for NSW, we know that psychological injuries are amongst the most costly and most life changing.
"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."
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.
Two thousand five hundred Gentle Bears have arrived at 46 Rural Fire Service districts around NSW with another 2,500 bears to follow in 2020.