During the height of the Black Summer fires, she spent many days volunteering with the Red Cross team at the Batemans Bay evacuation centre on the New South Wales’ South Coast.
Red Cross volunteers supporting people arriving at an evacuation centre further south in the nearby town of Bega.
She helped people register and linked them with support – from clean clothes to a place to sleep to financial assistance. But one of the most important things she did was listen as they told her what they had been through and offer comfort and reassurance.
“Listening is vital at that early stage,” says Deb, who is trained in providing psychosocial first aid. “Listening and smiling, just saying ‘Do you want a cup of tea or coffee?’ People will cry, they will break down. You can hold their hand or listen to their story … and just smile and just keep nodding.
“People underestimate the benefit and the emotional healing that can come initially, or be started, by having a cup of tea, by offering that help, by seeing someone who’s there for (you).”
Deb, who lives in nearby Sussex Inlet, had to evacuate her own home because of the fires. Once her house was safe, and the nearby fires settled down, she went to help at the evacuation centre at Batemans Bay’s Hanging Rock Sports Complex.