Ausnew Home Care | SES welcomes volunteers from all walks of life and

SES welcomes volunteers from all walks of life and builds community

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On a weeknight when most people are eating dinner, putting the kids to bed and watching some TV, a small group of dedicated volunteers is at the State Emergency Service (SES) training centre in Kewdale, in Perth's southern suburbs, preparing for bushfire season.

Robbie Palmer, 44, has been in the SES for more than half his life and has held most positions in that time. He performs the role of trainer assessor.

SES team at the communications centre at a weeknight meeting. Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
The team holds a weeknight meeting at the communications centre.(Supplied: Eve Wolfe)

His juvenile rheumatoid arthritis meant that when he first joined in 1997 he had to use a wheelchair but he said his experience as a volunteer had been an incredibly positive one.

He said back then SES units were based in older buildings and accessibility was an issue but he and his team didn't let that prevent him from training with the group.

A role for everyone in an emergency

Today's training facilities are much improved but that spirit of inclusivity and mateship remain.

He encourages those who are thinking of joining the SES — even if they have a disability — to do so.

He said SES volunteers had many important roles to play when there was a bushfire emergency ranging from doorknocking with the police, controlling traffic and managing muster and evacuation points.

Man in SES uniform looks at communications screen
Communications are vital in an emergency.(Supplied: Eve Wolfe)

During a high-level incident, the SES will turn out as part of a large cross organisational operation, transporting equipment and people to and from the fire ground, setting up communications, as well as providing logistics support and help responders on the frontline to manage their fatigue.

He said SES volunteers did not have to have existing skills but they did have to be able to use their initiative.

"It's the ability to think outside that square. The one thing I got taught, and then I teach my guys is, we teach you a set of skills. How you apply them, is up to you," Mr Palmer said.

There are a range of job choices from basic and advanced rescue, storm damage, marine rescue, as well as operations, radio and logistics.

"There are people that have never picked up a hammer or saw in their life," he said.

"And they walk out climbing on roofs within six months of joining and putting a tarp on in the middle of a storm.

"They enjoy it. They find it challenging, it's outside their normal life. So yeah, it's nice to see them build that knowledge and skills," he said.

SES volunteers sit in for a meeting at the communications centre
SES volunteers say they get friendship and community from volunteering. (Supplied: Eve Wolfe)

Keeping informed in a crisis

Reliable communications between the command point and the frontline are critical during an emergency.

The effective deployment of resources and the ability to rapidly respond to changing conditions depend on it. For the SES this is the responsibility of the specialist Communications Support Unit.

Roland Pedeferri is a desktop support analyst by day and volunteers for this unit.

"It's extremely important, and if it's not done right, people can get hurt. We make sure that it's done right," he said.

SES volunteers at depot with truck
Mobility issues are no barrier to finding a role at the SES, volunteers say. (Supplied: Eve Wolfe)

Mr Pedeferri said his first encounter with the SES was on a stormy day back in 2002 when he witnessed fences knocked down and roofs torn off.

The SES response, tying tarps to roofs and making everything safer made a lasting impression on him.

Years later when the opportunity arose, he put his hand up to join. Now he is a deputy team leader in the unit.

He experiences depression and said volunteering helped him fit in and provide a valuable service.

He said he thrived in the high-pressure environment of bushfire support.

"It's funny because the high stress of an incident actually feels like a relief from day-to-day life. And you just like, you get this sense of calm," he said.

'I've always wanted to join the SES'

Bruce Newton, known as Sharky to his mates, is a Navy veteran who joined the SES communications team 14 months ago.

He says he has a shopping list of long-term injuries and conditions causing pain and limited mobility.

"I was sitting at home, not doing anything. I had done a lot of volunteer work raising money for charities and stuff, which I could no longer do," Mr Newton said.

"And I thought well, I've always wanted to join the SES and now I have the time."

SES truck with water bottles
The SES are called out to help during fires, storms and other emergencies.(Supplied: Eve Wolfe)

Mr Newton contributes by driving people and equipment to critical locations.

He cooks a good breakfast and just does whatever he can to try to make everyone else's life easier, so they can get on with doing what they need to do.

"[I help by] driving out to take another piece of equipment out to a search or something, it's great," he said.

"It's better [for me to do it] than someone who may need to get tapped to go on to another event, because it's not like there's one event a day, it could be three or four," he said.

"I help with other volunteer organisations, and a lot of them just go, oh yeah, you've got disability, you're disabled, whatever, and they sort of write you off — these guys don't."


Source: ABC

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