Paramedic hero recognised
DON Gillies has dedicated his life to helping others, both in saving lives as a paramedic and advocating for the welfare of his colleagues.
After 34 years of advocating for the mental and physical welfare of those in emergency services, the Outtrim man was awarded the Ambulance Service Medal within the Australia Day Honours list.
“I was stunned, thrilled and embarrassed when I found out,” Mr Gillies said.
“When I received my letter congratulating me on the award, I thought it could have potentially been a mistake.”
Mr Gillies has remained modest despite having achieved tremendous success in his career. He became a paramedic at 22 when he transferred to the Metropolitan Ambulance Service from the police force following an incident which made him question his career choice.
“I was at a crossroads after I had been involved in firearm incident which left me troubled so I decided to leave,” he said.
“Emergency services have always had extra pressure, but you could not show weakness. The moment you showed weakness, you got torn to shreds and that has never sat well with me.”
Ambulance Victoria employees have the highest suicide rates per capita in the state. Following a number of colleagues’ suicides, Mr Gillies was adamant to make a difference.
“I knew we had to do something. I did not want to go to another friend’s funeral,” he said.
Sporting long hair and a beard, Mr Gillies did a Shave to Remember, raising money and awareness for mental health organisation Beyond Blue.
Footage of the shave was released on Youtube with Mr Gillies speaking about the importance of mental health advocacy within the field.
“A young paramedic came to me and told me he was considering how he planned to kill himself, and after having watched the video he chose to seek help and speak up,” Mr Gillies said.
“I told myself that if this saves one life then it has all been worth it, and it has. That is worth more than anything.”
Mr Gillies also advocated for physical welfare at Ambulance Victoria, initiating the first Occupational Health and Safety practices in Doncaster while studying a graduate diploma in the field.
“I was part of the management team who set up the guidelines. Prior to that we did not have occupational health and safety and now there are 34 employees who work in that department,” he said.
Mr Gillies moved to Outtrim in 2001 with wife Sue and their children Lachlan, Elissa and Blaire.
“Sue has been a massive support for me. She has always had an understanding of what I have dealt with and she has stood by me from the start,” he said.
Mr Gillies took on the role of team manager at Mirboo North and took responsibility in training the Ambulance Community Officers who volunteer their time to become first responders.
“They felt left out of a lot of Ambulance Victoria things. I put a lot of time into their training and advocating for the group,” he said.
From there, he travelled around Gippsland to teach training and manual handling as well as conducting workshops as a driving standards instructor for ambulance drivers across the region.
Mr Gillies is also working alongside Al Briggs in new How are you Travelling workshops, where ambulance officers can come together to talk about their concerns.
“A lot of people were not reaching out to the service because it was seen as a weakness when I started my career,” Mr Gillies said.
“I hope for a global recognition and understanding of depression, PTSD and mental illness as real and as relevant as any other workplace injury.
“It is all about low risk welfare. My constant focus is getting everybody to go home at the end of the day.”
Taking long service leave in July, Mr Gillies will teach future drivers the importance of road safety with his business South Gippsland Drivers Education, using the same principals he has used to train paramedics across the region.
“I am in the process of winding down now,” he said of his impending retirement.
“One day you wake up and you know you have done enough.”
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