Snowy Valleys RFS volunteer Di Droscher has been on the ground in Dubbo since Tuesday, assisting with the state’s Covid-19 response in the far west.
Mrs Droscher joined a strike team of twenty volunteers from around the state on a two week deployment. She is the only volunteer from the Snowy Valleys to join this deployment, but was joined by ‘another Di’ from Wagga to make up the Riverina contingent.
RFS Riverina Highlands District Manager Jon Gregory applauded Mrs Droscher’s willingness to put herself on the front lines, assisting the NSW Health response in rural and remote areas. He said it’s likely another two week deployment will be called for if the need continues.
“It’s pretty incredible to put your hand up to go and do that. She’s certainly going into the lion’s den, I reckon,” he said, adding that Mrs Droscher’s previous experience in the Defence Force and with previous RFS strike teams has set her up well for the task.
“She’s very well trained,” he said.
Thursday morning, Mrs Droscher was taking a brief rest between shifts assisting with patient transportation. The volunteers are maintaining strict hygiene and PPE protocols and Mrs Droscher was washing and preparing her gear for another shift, this time working from the afternoon into the evening – when the demand for patient transport tends to be highest.
“It’s pretty hectic and full on and busy,” she said.
Mrs Droscher has been assigned to a team working with vCare, under NSW Health.
“What we’ve actually been tasked to do is to pick up patients, they could be Covid positive or they could have just recovered from Covid and they’re now negative,” she said.
The transportation team either takes patients home, to locations such as Bourke, Brewarrina or Walgett, or they transfer Covid-positive patients to the Dubbo Zoo for 14-day periods of quarantine.
“There’s accommodation out there,” she explained.
“Naturally, the zoo’s not open, the zoo’s closed… They can see the animals from where they’re staying, but they’re not with the animals.”
The zoo is a staging ground for quarantining patients, with police and healthcare services on site, including mental health support.
Although the official job is to transport patients from one location to another, Mrs Droscher said there’s lots of behind the scenes work to ensure that the drivers and passengers stay safe.
“Whilst we’re in the vehicle with a patient we are all in our PPE kit, which includes the gown, the gloves, the mask and safety glasses.
“Once we have finished dropping the patient off, we have to go to a special site at the hospital. We then have to take that used PPE gear off, put fresh PPE gear back on, then we have to clean the inside of the vehicle. That has to be done each time.”
The cleaning process is thorough, and involves “lots of hand washing, hand washing, hand washing all the time.”
Case numbers in the state’s west have continued to build steadily through the week, with more than 600 cases detected in the state’s west in this current outbreak.
Mrs Droscher said the passengers she’s helped to transport have seemed calm and overall “pretty good.”
“We talk to them and reassure them,” she said.
Just two days into the deployment, Mrs Droscher said she’s expecting that the work out west ‘is going to be a long process’, with the virus – particularly the Delta variant – extremely hard to contain.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen with this Covid situation, or how numbers are going to increase,” she said.
“It is steady at the moment, but we don’t know what’s going to happen with this. It looks good one minute and then the next, ‘bam.’”
The volunteers are staying at the RFS Academy in Dubbo and so far have been mostly keeping to themselves at night, washing their gear frequently and resting when they can.
The deployment is also proving challenging in new ways, with the RFS crews and NSW Health still fine tuning their partnership.
“We know we’ve got to do when we go out on a strike team with a fire, but this is all new,” Mrs Droscher explained.
“A big learning curve.”
She described the other workers and the community as ‘fantastic’, saying there’s a lot of gratitude being shown to the RFS volunteers for their willingness to come and help.