Don’t forget to don your orange this Wednesday 22nd May for ‘Wear Orange Wednesday’ (WOW) – a tribute day for our volunteers of the SES. The NSW State Emergency Service (SES) is an emergency, preparedness and response service dedicated to assisting the community of NSW. And in our neck of the woods, 24 heroes are at the ready to act. Twelve of these volunteers are capable women of the Bellingen Shire and definitely deserved of a story.
The Bellingen Shire’s propensity for floods and dramatic storms, (who can forget the damage wreaked by the mini tornado moving through the Shire last December), makes the SES indispensable.
“In a region that can have extreme weather events, the NSW SES plays a vital role in providing assistance to emergency service organisations and the community. Our focus is to protect people from harm, minimise property damage and assist with recovery efforts,” says SES volunteer Lee Anne White.
“Our valley is known for it’s flooding which can leave some community members stranded for weeks. Bellingen is a flood rescue unit and therefore their role during these times is vital for the community, whether it be a flood rescue situation or a food and medicine drop,” says SES volunteer Joanne Dunne.
The work is physical, often being carried out in hazardous, cold and wet conditions. Yet all the volunteers I meet talk about a sense of real satisfaction in being able to help the community and make a difference, while being a part of the team.
“I joined the NSW SES to support my community, learn new skills and make personal connections. I have always had an interest in emergency response and the NSW SES provides a great avenue for me to pursue this interest,” says Lee Anne.
“That and always secretly wanting to dress up in orange,” says Joanne.
Long serving SES volunteer Barbara Moore has recently retired from service, but has been a mainstay of our local SES branch. “I’m a volunteer. It is who I am,” says Barbara. Quite apart from her active role on the ground, Barbara has also given hours of work to Community Engagement events.
“My role was to educate the various communities in my area about the risks & how they can prepare their homes, properties & person in the event of a climatic event,” says Barbara. “A highlight of this role was the new relationships that I developed with the residents of the various community groups.”
SES training is vigorous and ongoing.
“After your initial training you then go on to complete courses in first aid, storm and water damage operations, flood rescue, land search, chainsaw operations and other community support activities,” says Lee Anne. “There is ongoing fortnightly two hour training sessions for all volunteers.”
All agree that the extensive training helps to ameliorate the inherent stress of the job.
“Working in a team situation and being trained to know your limitations physically, emotionally & mentally will provide you with the coping mechanisms required,” says Barbara.
So are there unique skills that only a woman can bring to a role like this?
“Mmm, dare I say we are able to multi-skill” says Barbara. But all agree that like all organisations, a balanced team is essential.
“I think everyone is able to bring their own set of skills to a job like this,” says Lee Anne.
“There are many different roles to be filled to make a unit run successfully,” says Joanne. “We are well known for the work we do in the field. But behind the scenes we have training, administration, logistics, communication, development, education, community engagement and many more. Having a diverse section of the community volunteering at our unit, means that all of the different roles can be filled.”
Our volunteers will be ‘fully orange’ on Wednesday. WOW aims to increase public awareness of the SES and hopefully attract more volunteers. So hunt out your orange clobber for a very special cause.