By Tim Barlass – 25th November 2019
A volunteer rural firefighter, who developed PTSD during the course of attending more than 772 traumatic incidents over seven years, was never told he was at risk of developing the disorder, court documents say.
Simon Andrews joined the Illawong Rural Fire Service in 1997 and then the Austral RFS in 2002 where he was a first responder.
Incidents he attended included an attempted suicide, fatal accidents and a car accident in which a passenger was trapped for two hours.
He also attended an accident where a semi-trailer was on fire carrying gas cylinders, a fire in a caravan where an occupant suffered life-threatening burns and an explosion at a school.
Mr Andrews, 48, is seeking damages at the Supreme Court in Sydney from the State of NSW for the suffering he says he experienced.
“The plaintiff attended a job at the International Shooting Centre in Cecil Park. When the plaintiff arrived at the fire there was a grass fire about one kilometre long and heading towards property and infrastructure,” his statement of claim reads.
“The plaintiff eventually had many fire trucks attending and aircraft working the fire. The following day the plaintiff returned to the scene to participate in the mop-up operation. When the plaintiff got home that day, he realised that he just could not attend another fire.”
At some time Mr Andrews consulted NSW Rural Fire Service welfare manager Paul Scott. He saw him once a month for a number of months but Mr Scott didn’t recommend Mr Andrews to see a doctor, psychologist nor psychiatrist.
Mr Scott advised Mr Andrews in 2004 that he didn’t need to see him anymore. In that year he attended 110 incidents including 46 fires and explosions, five hazardous conditions and 10 motor accident rescues.
The court papers say following Mr Andrews’ attendance at critical incidents, the defendant took no action to screen the plaintiff or assess him for possible development of PTSD nor refer him for assessment, treatment, leave or change of duties.
“The plaintiff’s injury was the cumulative effect of recurrent exposure to numerous traumatic incidents in which persons were killed, or injured, or were at risk of being killed or injured,” the claim reads.
“It was foreseeable that the plaintiff would develop a post-traumatic stress disorder or associated psychiatric illness which, unless was identified early, could become chronic as a result of continued exposure to traumatic incidents.”
The claim says the state government failed to have a system for the regular assessment of Mr Andrews and relied on a system of self-assessment.
“By the casual acts of negligence of Mr Paul Scott, a crisis manager with the RFS, failed to refer the plaintiff for psychiatric or psychological assessment,” the claim reads.
As a result it is alleged Mr Andrews suffered chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and resulting alcohol abuse. He suffered loss of earnings and the capacity to earn an income.
The hearing continues.