Local GP and St John Ambulance Service Victoria Commissioner Dr Iain Nicolson was among the recipients of the inaugural National Emergency Medal during this year's Australia Day award ceremonies.
The Sale-based GP, who is also Head of the Central Gippsland Health Service GP Unit, was presented with his award by Prime Minister Julia Gillard at Flowerdale, near Kinglake, as reward for his efforts during the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.
As the St John Ambulance Commissioner, a senior honorary role on the St John Ambulance Victoria Executive, Dr Nicolson was heavily involved in coordinating – from Sale – the activities of St John Ambulance volunteers during and after Black Saturday in conjunction with other St John senior managers.
“I was in constant contact with management and the Board as well as the volunteers, although from Sale, because of course I couldn’t get through to Melbourne because there was a fire in the way,” Dr Nicolson recalled this week.
“We had very highly trained volunteers who ran the operations, so my role was working with the coordination team.”
Dr Nicolson noted in his report in the 2009 St John Victoria Annual Report that St John Ambulance volunteers delivered 49 days of continuous service during and after Black Saturday.
One of those volunteers was Registered Nurse and St John's Ambulance volunteer Tracy Grigg, who Dr Nicolson accompanied as part of a St John Ambulance team to Canberra on Australia Day. Dr Nicolson then travelled back to Flowerdale, north of Kinglake, to receive his award from the Prime Minister the next day.
He describes it as a great honour to receive the award. “It was right up there, along with meeting Princess Anne at the time of the fires when Her Royal Highness met volunteers working in the field following the fires,” Dr Nicolson said.
The National Emergency Medal can only be awarded to those involved in events, such as the Victorian bushfires, that have been declared nationally-significant emergencies. The minimum duration of service required to qualify is, in the case of an unpaid position, seven days including at least one day during the peak of the fire threat.
Dr Nicolson has been Commissioner with St John Ambulance Victoria since 2005, an honorary position he holds in addition to his long-term professional service to the local community as a general practitioner and Visiting Medical Officer at Central Gippsland Health Service.