Emergency services run for mental health awareness

UPDATE, WEDNESDAY: THE last thing most people would feel up to doing after clocking off a night shift is running. 

But Bendigo firefighter Jon Gawthrop and his colleagues did just that, travelling to Bridgewater after work to participate in the Damien Burke Memorial Relay Run. 

The runners reached Bendigo just before midday, then headed to Maldon, Castlemaine and Daylesford. 

“It’s no secret now that as emergency service workers we’re exposed to some unsavoury things from time to time,” Mr Gawthrop said. 

By donning one of the green singlets, the runners helped to raise awareness of mental health issues and break down the associated stigma.

“It’s good to know there are so many other people out there that care about this issue,” Mr Gawthrop said. 

The event was inspired by Senior Station Officer Damien Burke, a firefighter of 27 years who took his own life in February 2016.

This year’s route has been extended to include Ballarat in memory of CFA firefighter Nathan Shanahan, who took his own life in December after a long battle with PTSD. 

Damien Burke. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Damien Burke. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

MFB Leading Firefighter Steve Axup, the event’s organiser, said the event was a show of support to all those who might be struggling with a mental health issue.

“It’s just so prevalent, it’s crazy,” he said.

He said several of the firefighters he trained with would never work as firefighters again due to the trauma they’d been exposed to.

“It just leaves people absolutely crippled,” Mr Axup said. 

But there was help available – something the run encouraged people to seek.

The Damien Burke Memorial Relay Run aims to raise $500,000 for Lifeline and the Black Dog Institute.

Though Mr Axup said it was an ambitious goal, the fundraising total was nearing $360,000 when the runners arrived in Bendigo.

Mr Axup was grateful for the “tremendous support” people had shown for the event. 

“The hospitality has been amazing,” he said. 

Senior Station Officer Burke’s wife, Anne, said the event had been emotional, but enjoyable. 

“It’s incredibly moving to see how highly regarded and respected Damien was and it makes us very proud,” she said.

“It’s a great thing to be part of.”

She believes her husband would have been amazed by what his friends and colleagues were doing to raise awareness of mental health, and was hopeful it would encourage people to ask for help. 

Firefighters salute as a firetruck from Mildura emblazoned with the number 47 drives past. Photo: Jason South

Firefighters salute as a firetruck from Mildura emblazoned with the number 47 drives past. Photo: Jason South

“People are there to listen to you and help you – don’t keep it in,” she said. 

The Damien Burke Memorial Relay Run ends in Melbourne on Saturday, during the fourth annual Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb.

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If you or someone you know needs help with a mental illness, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

UPDATE, TUESDAY: FIREFIGHTERS, paramedics and police are due to arrive in Bendigo tomorrow as part of a 650 kilometre run for mental health awareness. 

Members of the Damien Burke Memorial Relay Run departed from Mildura on Saturday.

Ouyen, Woornack, Sea Lake, Dumosa, Charlton, Wedderburn and Bridgewater have been on their route thus far.

Bendigo, Maldon, Castlemaine and Daylesford are on the itinerary for Wednesday.

The second annual run is scheduled to finish on September 2 in Melbourne.

FRIDAY: FIREFIGHTERS, paramedics and police are set to embark on a run from Mildura to Melbourne to raise awareness of mental health and break down stigma.

The 650 kilometre event, which starts on Saturday, runs through Charlton, Bridgewater, Bendigo, and Daylesford.

Ambulance Victoria, Victoria Police and Country Fire Authority members will join the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Charity Running Club in its attempt to raise $500,000 for the Black Dog Institute and Lifeline.

The inaugural Damien Burke Memorial Relay Run, last year, raised more than $10,000 for Lifeline. 

The event was inspired by Senior Station Officer Damien Burke, a firefighter of 27 years who took his own life in 2016. 

A Fairfax Media report stated that Mr Burke, who was based in Footscray, did more to galvanise the relationship between the CFA and the MFB during his seven-month secondment in Mildura than anyone before him.

The route for this year’s run includes Ballarat, in honour of career firefighter Nathan Shanahan, who recently lost his fight with PTSD.

The Damien Burke Memorial Relay Run ends in Melbourne on September 2, during the fourth annual Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb.

The runners are expected to pass through central Victoria between Tuesday and Thursday.

If you or someone you know needs help with a mental illness, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.