16/11/2023 12:49 PM

The efforts of four NSW State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers who risked their own lives to rescue people from flood water in the Northern Rivers have been recognised with bravery awards.

At about 11pm on March 30, 2017 the Tweed River breached the South Murwillumbah levee, causing floodwaters to spill rapidly through the township and inundate properties.

The force of the water washed away and submerged motor vehicles and resulted in a surge of calls to the NSW SES State Operations Centre. Throughout the evening, NSW SES Murwillumbah members responded to numerous flood rescues, including of a man in a wheelchair.

Darren Pearson, Joe Frankland, Alexander Hetherington and Kenneth Harrison were among the members tasked to respond, with some of the crew having to shelter in a home overnight after becoming trapped in floodwater during a rescue.

The four members have been awarded Bronze Awards by the Royal Humane Society in recognition of their bravery during the March 2017 flood.

Recalling the night, Mr Frankland said the water was flowing so fast it was not possible to turn boats.

“I have been in the SES for over 20 years and have been through several floods and there has been none even close to the ferocity of the water that night,” he said.

“When we were entering Prospero Street, the force of water coming out meeting River Street was so violent it pushed the boat up the wall of the shops and required extensive manoeuvring to keep the boat from flipping.”

Mr Harrison and Mr Hetherington were completing a flood rescue at about 3.00am when they hit debris in floodwater with the prop of the boat, causing them to go overboard.

“While we were returning into floodwater to complete another rescue, the boat hit a submerged car and tipped onto its side,” he said.

“Alex (Hetherington) was able to cling onto a nearby shade sail and I managed to climb up the stairs of a house. From there I climbed over the railing and put my leg out for Alex to grab and pulled him onto the veranda I was on.

“We stayed at the house until daylight, when fellow SES members returned to collect us. Once we were back at the SES unit, we continued responding to calls for help.”

Mr Harrison said flood rescue teams from the unit retrieved more than 40 people from their homes after floodwater inundated South Murwillumbah, saying the night brought the “worst conditions he’s worked in during 32 years in the SES”.

“Some of the rescues we completed on the night included people aged as young as 2 years old, to elderly people and a pregnant lady,” Mr Harrison said.

NSW SES Murwillumbah Unit members Brock Frankland, Dylan Pearson and Christopher Wihlborg were also operating flood boats to rescue people from homes and floodwaters on the night.

NSW SES Assistant Commissioner Sean Kearns congratulated the members and thanked them for their selfless efforts during the flooding event of March 2017.

“Our volunteers are constantly going above and beyond for the community, working hard to safeguard lives and homes during times of crises and uncertainty,” Assistant Commissioner Kearns said.

“These four members risked their own lives to come to the rescue of others in challenging circumstances, and I commend them for their efforts.

“I would like to congratulate the volunteers who embody our motto of saving lives and creating safer communities. They have achieved all of this while also balancing the demands of everyday life, and I commend them for their service.”

Pictured Above: (L-R) NSW SES Assistant Commissioner Sean Kearns, NSW SES Murwillumbah Unit members and award recipients Alex Hetherington, Darren Pearson, Joe Frankland and Kenneth Harrison


 Pictured Above: NSW SES Murwillumbah Unit members Joe Frankland and Darren Pearson. 

Media enquiries: NSW SES Media 1800 067 234 or

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