First Responder and Peer Support Dog Handler reflects on volunteering at AV

Ambulance Victoria (AV) volunteer Jan Ogle said she loves giving back to the community alongside people with a shared purpose, as she reflected on what it means to be a volunteer this National Volunteer Week.

Jan is Team Leader of the Blackwood Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and is the first CERT member to be one of AV’s Peer Support Dog Handlers.

CERTs are comprised of volunteer First Responders, trained to provide advanced first aid, and are located in less populated and more remote areas of the state.

They are dispatched at the same time as an ambulance and are often first on scene to provide immediate care to their local community until an ambulance arrives.

A female Ambulance Victoria volunteer standing beside an Ambulance Victoria vehicle.

Jan Ogle.

National Volunteer Week runs from 20-26 May and provides an opportunity to highlight the important role of volunteers in communities across the country, as well as inviting people not currently volunteering to give it a go.

Jan joined the Blackwood CERT eight years ago, becoming co-Team Leader halfway through.

“I come from a nursing and midwifery background, and we’ve got a little holiday house at Blackwood,” she said.

“I saw an ad for CERT members in the local newspaper and the timing was right – my daughters had grown up a bit, so I had a bit more time to give.

“Having a healthcare background, it was important to me to go out and help people.

“I love working with different people from the community who are all volunteering for the same cause – helping people.”

Two female Ambulance Victoria volunteers standing beside an Ambulance Victoria vehicle which is parked outside the garage of a branch office.

Jan Ogle (right) with fellow Blackwood CERT member Kathy Berrill.

She said one of her favourite things about the Blackwood CERT is the variety it brings.

“For one, we’ve got a diverse group of people in our team – not all of them come from medical backgrounds but we all have a common purpose,” she said.

“We work closely alongside a variety of paramedics – our local crews but also sometimes the metro crews, or Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance (MICA) and air ambulance teams.

“I like responding to the local community and we also get sent to recreational incidents in Blackwood’s surrounding State Forests.

“It’s always different – almost no two jobs are the same.”

Jan plays a dual role at AV, in the much-loved Peer Support Dog Program alongside her pet labrador Pippa.

The duo travel around Victoria, visiting ambulance branches, hospitals, and other AV sites or events to educate and connect people with AV’s wellbeing and support services or to provide referral pathways to other community support.

The program aims to decrease stigma around seeking help and to reduce occupational stress.

A female Ambulance Victoria volunteer in a kneeling beside an Ambulance Victoria support dog.

Jan and Pippa.

“I always looked up to Bruce and Ken,” Jan said of the pioneers of AV’s Peer Support Dog Program, labrador Bruce and his handler, AV paramedic and peer support responder Ken Whittle.

“I thought maybe Pippa could do it too because she seemed to be quite good in public and busy areas.

“We applied and a couple of years later I became the first CERT member to be a Peer Support Dog Handler.

“I love going out on the peer dog days and chatting to the paramedics, First Responders, the staff and the graduate paramedics.

“Pip’s just the icebreaker – then you get to chat about how they’re going and make sure they know what wellbeing supports are available to them.”

Jan said in her eight years with AV, there have been many highlights, but responding with the CERT to a complex, multi-agency incident last year is one that stands out.

“Three of the team received commendations from the paramedics for helping them in a complex situation, so it was rewarding to be recognised,” she said.

“When you get complex cases, you might work with CFA and SES teams on top of the AV crews.

“We all have a role to play and we all work together well.”

She said she’s still waiting for the ultimate crossover between her career as a midwife and her volunteer work at AV.

“I’m still waiting for the baby delivery job to arrive,” she laughed.

“The team always say, if we get one of them, you’re the one who’s going out!”

The theme of National Volunteer Week 2024 is ‘Something for Everyone’, recognising the diverse passions and talents everyone brings to the act of volunteering.

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