Hunter Valley Rural Fire Service team welcomes 50 cuddly new recruits to support children who experience traumatic incidents

THE Hunter Valley Rural Fire Service (RFS) team recently welcomed a cuddly new recruit.

Well, 50 of them to be exact.

Two-thousand and five-hundred "Gentle Bears" arrived at 46 RFS stations around NSW and are now available to support and care for children across the state who experience traumatic incidents, with another 2500 bears to follow in 2020.

Gentle Bear was the brainchild of Gallagher Bassett and the South Australian Police Department who wanted to do more to help the kids 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," Gallagher Bassett CEO John McNamara 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.

icare provides workers compensation insurance to NSW government agencies, including the NSW Rural Fire Service.

The company recognised that Gentle Bear 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," icare's general manager of agency engagement Britt Coombe said.

"As the workers' compensation insurer for NSW, we know that psychological injuries are among the most costly and most life changing."

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," Ms Coombe said.

"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 firefighters who are able to 'doing something' in a situation that can otherwise make them feel powerless."