Tales of heroism from NSW’s South Coast

Bushfires closing in on the Malua Bay area turned the sky red. Photo: Mark Naunton/Supplied.

A pharmacist who took on a coordinating role to help fire-affected stores in his banner group has told of the tireless work of colleagues on the ground

Andrew Topp, group business manager of the Capital Chemist Group, has told the Pharmacy Guild’s newsletter Forefront about the heroism displayed by Capital Chemist pharmacists on the NSW South Coast.

The group has several pharmacies in the area, 10 of which have been affected by this year’s bushfire disaster.

He said that the list he cited was not exhaustive, and there were likely many more unsung heroes amongst Australia’s community pharmacists and staff.

They included Danielle Campbell from the Narooma pharmacy, who worked with local doctors, and spent three days in an evacuation centre helping patients while making a number of trips to the pharmacy, which was closed. Ms Campbell’s home was under threat at the time, Mr Topp noted.

He said that Ulladulla partner Tim Rudd had delivered medicines to a yacht which was then able to take them to Manyana, which no longer had road access due to the fires.

Meanwhile Jeff Soo, also at Ulladulla, opened his Beachside store despite having no electricity on January 1, to help the influx of patients who had been evacuated from their own towns.

Mr Soo was not the only pharmacist to open his store with no power: some pharmacies opened despite the lack of electricity while pharmacists and staff packed Webster packs in the dark, using only a torch for light and heating their iron using a camping stove.

On New Year’s Eve, some pharmacies stayed open even while towns were being evacuated and people were “literally running for their lives,” Forefront reports.

And in Canberra, three pharmacies were able to deliver asthma relievers to an unrelated pharmacy in Merimbula when wholesalers were unable to do so.

Mr Topp said he believed that four Capital Chemist staff had lost their homes while “dozens of staff were displaced”.

“Their efforts make me very, very proud of our industry, our group and our staff,” Mr Topp said.

He also welcomed the extension of emergency supply provisions, saying the previous provisions had been “simply inadequate” and the move was “common sense”.

Also writing in Forefront, Guild executive director Suzanne Greenwood said that the frontline response provided by pharmacists was “inspiring”.

“We have seen urgent medicine supplies delivered by boat, air ambulance, naval vessels, military helicopters, private vehicles under police escort – and even jet skis,” she wrote.

“We have seen pharmacies operating without power, packing medicines and delivering supplies to people in evacuation centres.

“We have had pharmacists open up despite losing their home or having their property under direct fire threat.  

“Payments have been waived or delayed until the patients caught up in this disaster are back on their feet or have access to funds.

“As our National President George Tambassis put it: ‘There are heroes in our midst.’”

NSW Health has now announced that it has arranged for pharmacies to distribute free face masks to help people affected by fires.

NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant warned that P2 masks are not suitable for everybody, and not recommended for general use.

People with pre-existing heart and lung conditions should consult their doctor before using P2 masks, she said.

Dr Chant said the masks can be useful for people who have to work outside in very smoky conditions, or when returning to bush fire affected properties.

“For these masks to be effective, it’s important they are fitted according to the manufacturer’s instructions and form a tight seal around the face,” Dr Chant said.

“The best way to protect yourself from bushfire smoke and poor air quality is to reduce your exposure by staying indoors with windows and doors closed, and to avoid outdoor exercise.”

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