They might not be visible in stations, across communities and on fire appliances when the sirens start, but Control Room Operators are an essential and heroic part of the fire service family – and the first point of contact in our darkest moments.
Being there at the very start, however, can also mean they experience some traumatic calls – and having support available to them is essential.
That’s where we come in – and one member of Scottish FRS Control who’s seen first-hand how we can help her and her colleagues is Melanie Gibb, a Watch Commander at Johnstone.
Melanie first received our help a few years ago, after going through a difficult time with her mental health. She then had physical support more recently, and says the hybrid support she received helped her get back to work and feel her best again.
“When I first had support from the Charity, I’d actually been going through a difficult time with my mental health. I was able to receive some support for stress, which really helped,” says Melanie.
“I was offered a place at Jubilee House just for some respite to take some time away and to take my mind off things. It was a chance to concentrate on things like my exercise and watching what I’m eating.
“As a follow-up from that, I also rented one of the bungalows shortly after for two weeks, just completely getting away from everything back home.”
She adds: “I’d highly recommend you get in touch with the Charity as quickly as possible, as soon as you’re feeling any kind of stress or illness. It takes a while to diagnose and takes even longer to get treatment on the NHS, so take advantage of what the service and Charity has to offer.”
Having seen the options available to her and her colleagues, Melanie knew where to turn around 18 months ago when she was left in a lot of pain from tennis elbow.
“I first started noticing pain in my left wrist in 2015 and assumed it was repetitive strain injury, particularly in my line of work and sat using a computer,” she says.
“The pain got worse and worse and shot up my arm, and it got to the point I had to go to the doctors. I was actually able to get help with that, I just needed to keep exercising it, but then my arm started around a year and a half ago.
“This time, the pain came very, very quickly and because I’d used the Charity years before, and was well aware of the services if offered, it was in my mind from the moment the pain started this second time. I got in touch straight away.”
Melanie was offered remote video calls at first with one of our Physiotherapists, who was able to guide her through some exercises.
She adds: “I started the exercise routines through Salaso, which were tailored to my injury.
“The digital exercises were totally flexible and can fit in round you, no matter what hours you work. Then even when it came to meeting the Physiotherapist on Teams, they were very flexible.
“I was later invited down to Jubilee House to do more intense physiotherapy. I worried when I was going down at first because my arm was really sore, I didn’t want to be spending all day working on it, but it’s not like that at all.
“There was also pool time, walks, exercises, workshops and classes. It’s a very tiring day but excellent.
“I met a great group of people while I was there, all over the UK, and we’ve made up a Whatsapp group to keep in touch since. We’re even hoping to meet up soon.”
Melanie now spreads the word around her colleagues as much as she can, particularly about our mental health support – which many may not be aware of.
“I think it’s more important than ever now, Control across the UK has an exceptionally high sickness record when it comes to stress and mental ill health,” says Melanie.
“It’s very important, not just as Watch Commanders like myself, but everybody, to promote the Charity.
“Scottish FRS has done a lot around mental health and part of my training in my role is to promote the Charity as an organisation you should go to, should you be feeling the impact of mental ill health.
“There are also a lot of preventative courses, workshops and programmes available to us. The workshops, through the Charity’s Wellness and Behaviour Change Coaches, are a wonderful idea.
“It’s not just for yourself, it’s for your loved ones.”
“We have healthy living and nutrition workshops scheduled in already, they’re really helpful and can be done during our official training time. It’s great to have that access to support for our health and wellbeing.
“There’s so many ways now to find out more about the Charity, and I think the app – My Fire Fighters Charity – is fantastic too.”
As a final word, Melanie says: “I like to think that people join up and start contributing from then, because you never know when you’ll need it. It’s not just for yourself, it’s for your loved ones.
“Donate and support the Charity, it’s absolutely wonderful.”
If you feel you’d benefit from our health and wellbeing support, we may be able to help you. Call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820, make an enquiry online or register for My Fire Fighters Charity now and visit the ‘Access Support’ tab.
You can also join our ‘Share Your Story’ Group in the app, by clicking on the ‘Groups’ tab, to chat to others who have received our support or enquire about sharing your own story.