When Dawn Ferrier founded TalkSmart Training back in 2017, her dream was to make quality first aid training more accessible to rural and regional communities.
A country girl herself, she wanted to create an army of life savers in the bush, where access to ambulances and health services was often limited.
Five years later, Dawn has realised that dream and then some, delivering training to more than 7500 people by herself across regional Australia, and saving countless lives in the process.
TalkSmart Training was originally developed to fill a gap in services in Dawn’s hometown of Echuca, based on the Murray River in northern Victoria.
She drew on her extensive experience as an Ambulance Community Officer and Level 2 Sports Trainer to establish an all-inclusive mobile training company.
From there she set out to deliver 38 nationally-recognised first aid courses to organisations, community groups, sporting clubs, schools and government agencies right across regional Australia.
“The driving force was to upskill communities that may not have otherwise had the opportunity to obtain first-aid training,” Dawn said.
“First Aid responders can be the difference between life and death when you’re waiting for emergency services to arrive. In the country, ambulance response times can be up to 45 minutes, and so the more people we have trained in CPR, and other vital first aid skills, the better.”
When the Covid pandemic hit, Dawn acted quickly, adapting her business model to include an online learning platform.
This pivot, she says, completely transformed the business and resulted in mammoth growth, including a 96% increase in turnover in 2020-21 and a further 25% increase in turnover in 2021-22.
“As was the case for so many businesses, the pandemic created many challenges for TalkSmart Training, and required innovation and adaptability to survive,” Dawn said.
“Traditional face-to-face delivery became exceedingly difficult. We could only run with limited numbers within sessions and the 8 hour timeframe to complete the first aid course exposed people to potential risk.”
Dawn said the online program required participants to undertake extensive online training and theory assessments prior to a short face-to-face assessment, giving them far greater flexibility.
“People no longer have to take the day off work or attend at weekends if they don’t need to,” she said.
“They can complete the course work in their own time, at their own pace, and from the comfort of their home or business.” Dawn delivers training and assessment on behalf of Allens Training Pty. Ltd, RTO90909.
Dawn said the online training option complemented her mobile group training perfectly, and she was now reaching more participants than she ever thought possible.
Ultimately, she said covid had provided her with an opportunity to empower more people in the bush to save more lives.
“Many providers and trainers from larger regional towns and cities don’t understand the issues and unique challenges of people living in rural communities.
“The reality of living remotely often means you are a very long way from emergency services, and sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. It’s my job to ensure people are prepared if that time comes.”
Dawn said she was proud that her business was providing a vital service that was accessible to all.
She recently conducted training in an Aboriginal community in outback Australia, supporting elders and leaders to be confident in emergency situations. Her initial group booking was for 10 participants, but she ended up with 20, who all went on to complete their full training.
In another case, Dawn adjusted her course delivery to suit a young woman who was unable to read or write. The woman participated in a group training session, and Dawn adjusted her explanation of counting chest compressions to singing a song instead to achieve the correct rhythm for resuscitation.
But for Dawn, the greatest rewards have come in the moments that have saved lives.
She recently conducted a first aid session in the small country town of Wycheproof. The following week, a well-known identity in the community suffered a cardiac arrest, and one of her course participants helped to revive him, saving his life.
Another time, one of her students, Cat Whinfield, was flagged down by a man on the side of the road on the outskirts of Cohuna, a rural town in the Gannawarra Shire, where a patient was on the ground in cardiac arrest. Those gathered at the scene had no idea what to do and were on the phone to emergency services. Cat took over and started CPR, reviving the patient after 5 minutes of compressions. The patient suffered a seizure and stopped breathing again, and Cat conducted CPR for another 10 minutes until paramedics arrived. That patient lived.
“This is what it’s all about for me,” Dawn said.
“Empowering people in remote and isolated areas of Australia to save lives.”