Beyond the Call of Duty
When thunderstorms and flash flooding hit the lllawarra in March 2011, elderly Warilla couple Ina and Jimmy McKecknie felt nature’s force first hand. With over 200 millimetres of rain in only a few hours, the deluge destroyed much of their home, leaving the pair unsure of what to do next.
“[The water] came in a couple of feet [high],” explains Ina. “Everything was ruined. It stank to high heaven because of the sewage. The carpet was all sodden and there were things floating around.”
“I’ve been here 50 years. I’ve seen it rain, but it’s never gone into the house. It was just pouring down and never stopped.”
The freak weather event caused Shellharbour City SES Unit volunteers to work tirelessly around the clock, providing assistance for desperate residents. The unit was overwhelmed with more than 360 calls for help in just 24 hours, requiring out-of-area units and emergency services to be called in.
For Ina and Jimmy, the generosity and selflessness of the Shellharbour Unit was felt more than most, fostering a relationship that continues more than a year on. With their street cut off and Jimmy’s oxygen machine destroyed, a team of SES volunteers came across the couple, immediately stepping in to help.
The team quickly removed as much excess water and debris as possible and made sure the electrical system was safe, before going above and beyond, taking ruined furniture to the tip and ripping up the waterlogged carpets.
“It was very upsetting at the initial discovery of what the couple was going through,” says Shane Gauci, a team leader with the unit. “Ina was so very grateful. She’s such a wonderful, vibrant person who made all the members feel proud and joyed by what we were achieving.”
Kylie Newman, Community Engagement and Media Coordinator with the unit, then organised temporary accommodation for Ina and Jimmy, including a replacement oxygen machine. In the following days, she also helped the couple to work out their insurance claim.
The team not only returned to repaint the house and lay new carpets, but generously donated furniture and other household items to replace the couples damaged belongings.
“I was so grateful. They were so helpful. I’ll never be able to thank them enough for what they did. Once they got me out of the house that should have been that, but they came back,” says Ina.
Ina nominated Kylie for the Shellharbour City Australia Day Volunteer of the Year, for which she was a runner-up.
To Ina, the volunteers at the Shellharbour Unit are like family. When Jimmy sadly passed away in July last year, members from the unit attended his funeral in support. Ina also attended the Christmas barbeque.
“Kylie still comes to visit. She’s like a granddaughter to me. They’re all there for me. If I ever need anything, I just have to let them know,” she smiles. “They already do a damn good job as volunteers, but once they got me out of the house, that should have been that. Yet they came back. I was just amazed at what they did.
“I think I’ve told everyone about [the SES Volunteers] – I don’t know what I would have done without them, honestly. Without the SES, I wouldn’t have managed.
“They went beyond the call of duty.”
Story by Amelia Lindsay