Emergency responders lack mental health support, equipment

First-responders regularly exposed to traumatic accidents are lacking mental health support and necessary equipment as demand for their services grows, the Samoa Fire and Emergency Services Authority (S.F.E.S.A.) says. 

F.E.S.A., in its annual report for the last fiscal year, says it has found building staff’s mental fitness “tougher” than expected. 

The report says that one of F.E.S.A.’s first responders received hospital treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder last year after being called to respond to an incident that claimed the lives of a father and son last year.

But the Tiapapata ravine incident also exposed "another area of concern": the Authority's lack of resources for callouts such as search and rescue missions on land and at sea.

"This lack of resources was exposed during a search and rescue incident at a Tiapapata ravine in the fourth quarter of the year which proved difficult in treacherous conditions and emphasized the lack of proper gear, tools and equipment that the responding staff required to properly undertake these specialized and technical services," the report reads.

The emergency services authority also notes that ambulance vehicles and related emergency management tools are in "short supply", something that may negatively impact the authority’s ability to deliver E.M.R. (Emergency Medical Response) services.

"E.M.R. services have been severely tested during the measles epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report says. 

“Resources are below the required level for the Authority to undertake the services.”

The report says that the emergency services' lack of physical resources coincides with the absence of mental health care and growing demand for their services. 

“[The mental health issue] was highlighted with one member diagnosed with [post-traumatic stress disorder] after the search and rescue incident at Tiapapata where he was hospitalised at the Mental Unit for a period of three months," the report reads.

"Whilst physical fitness is a top priority of the Authority through a fitness program implemented twice a week, the mental fitness proves to be tougher on the staff that are called to respond to traumatic events and incidents.

"Responding to victims of accidents and faced with life and death situations are normal occurrences for S.F.E.S.A.'s first responders, however, there is little support for the mental well-being of these staff members."

The report noted that the Authority is willing to work with the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital Mental Unit to provide "crucial" therapy support for first responders or secure assistance in providing therapy from their Australian counterparts.

The Authority has three stations servicing the country: Asau and Maota for Savaii, Faleata and Apia for Upolu.

Asau Station has yet to receive an ambulance vehicle due to a staffing shortage. 

The F.E.S.A. annual report noted that compared to the previous financial year, there was an increase of 37 per cent in the demand for the Authority’s ambulance services. 

Last financial year, the authority responded to a total of 3,067 incidents, including ambulance callouts - an increase of 30 per cent on the 2,360 recorded in the previous financial year.

"Of these incidences, 80 per cent were ambulance-related response services provided which reflects the increased awareness of the people with the services provided by the Authority," the report reads.

"Perhaps the more crucial factor in this increase is the role of the 911 Emergency Number which provides the platform for all ambulance calls to be directed to the F.E.S.A. Ambulance services."

The busiest quarter for the E.M.R. Division was during the measles epidemic state of emergency, while subsequent COVID-19 restrictions reduced demand for callouts. 


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