NSW SES volunteers celebrated on Wear Orange Wednesday (WOW Day)
Volunteering with the NSW State Emergency Service is an exciting and rewarding way to give back to your community. But don't take our word for it! Read some volunteer stories and decide for yourself. If you want to thank SES volunteers, the best day to get involved is on WOW Day
Western Sydney woman a lifeforce in preparing deaf communities for floods and storms
Campbelltown local Moira Reynolds has been a lifeforce in delivering flood and storm safety information to deaf communities.
With a career as a teacher of the deaf, the 68 year-old’s skills and dedication has been invaluable to the NSW SES team who have worked with deaf communities.
As a 22 year-old, Moira left her home country, the US, on her own for a teaching job offer, and joined NSW SES a few decades later.
She continues her effective communication skills through aviation radio operations, working in incident response teams and peer support.
“Everybody needs to have someone to talk to, who is there to listen and not judge,” Moira said.
Through NSW SES, she has travelled all over – from Bourke, to Blacktown and Bendigo in Victoria.
In the March 2021 floods, she worked at Moree and Coffs Harbour Units as an aviation radio operator.
After the event, Moira said she hoped the public would recognise the efforts of all NSW SES volunteers.
“Most of our members have a job and families and volunteer on top of their daily work,” Moira said.
“But we’re there because we want to help.
“The more people can do to get themselves ready for an event and don’t go into floodwater, the better off they will be.”
84-year-old sugar cane farmer has been fighting floods since he was a teenager
After joining the NSW SES when it was first proclaimed in 1955, Bert Plenkovich OAM stands as one of the organisation's longest serving volunteers.
The 84 year-old went through flooding from as long as he could remember, growing up sugar cane farming next to the Richmond River.
As a young lad, he joined the service with other Broadwater locals who boated and understood the dangers of floods.
Back in those days, Bert said there was no official headquarters, so they used a sugar mill office as a base.
The office had a switchboard, a two-way radio, and eventually became the official Broadwater Unit headquarters.
Bert was part of the unit’s leadership team, however he said the community’s competence was paramount.
“You knew which houses would get flooded so a team would come around and help with lifting up furniture,” Bert said.
As time went on, more and more SES members joined the unit, and more equipment became available.
He recalled helping residents who had waded through floodwater before it rose too high, and another family of 17 people.
“They knew the house was going to get flooded so they moved to neighbouring properties up on stilts, as many did on rural properties,” Bert said.
“They depended almost entirely on NSW SES to provide for them. There were no mobile phones. We had to get there and make sure they were OK every day.”
Many years later, Bert has remained active: practising blackbelt judo until he was 60 years old, farming until he was 74 and currently attending SES training nights when he can.
Meet one of the volunteers behind the scenes of Hawkesbury flood rescues
When Adam Jones trained volunteers last year, little did he know they would be putting those flood rescue skills to the test in the massive flood that inundated communities in March.
Adam was part of a Sydney team that helped train and refamiliarise about 200 members with the service’s flood rescue operations, which included the Hawkesbury flood rescue plan.
While the pandemic restricted the chance for face-to-face training, the Marrickville member took to teaching volunteers online. It wasn’t easy, but Adam said it proved incredibly helpful.
In the March floods, volunteers whom he helped train were put to the test; as were the skills he learnt over 20 years as a volunteer and through many out-of-area deployments.
“I helped coordinate flood response teams during the event; something I have learnt over my time with the service,” Adam said.
The 38 year-old joined NSW SES as an 18 year-old, wanting to learn new skills, serve the community and make friends.
Since joining, he has proudly helped his unit reach gender parity, grow from 20 to 140 members, and win two state-wide rescue competitions in 2017.
Another personal achievement was helping mature members in their 60s and 70s, who had worked office jobs, get involved with the unit and boost their confidence in doing roles they never thought possible.
"I would never have met these amazing people in any other walk of life,” he said.
"Throughout two years of training, we have given them the confidence to get up on a roof, and even become team leaders.”
Daring city to ‘country girl’ embraces new challenges in Lismore
Six years ago, Lacy Laloa would have gasped at the thought of rescuing people from crash sites or jumping on roofs.
Now Lismore SES Acting Unit Commander, they are some of the many courageous activities she takes in her stride.
The 33-year-old is on a mission to challenge herself in as many ways as possible.
Lacy grew up in Sydney, but describes herself as a country girl – with a love for horses, cattle, camping and fishing.
She joined the service to try something new after seeing a Facebook post.
A few years after joining, she faced the 2017 Lismore flood, which damaged her home.
Her community showed up with hampers, and everyone came together to support one another.
“The feeling within the NSW SES Lismore Unit is we’re one big family – I’ve met some of my best mates through the unit,” she said.
As heavy rain hit the NSW North Coast from November 2020, her unit did not stop responding.
Floods peaked in March 2021, and her unit assisted other areas where they could.
“While everyone is warm, cosy and dry in their homes, our volunteers are out in some of the most severe weather trying to assist the community and strangers,” Lacy said.
“They take so much time out of their lives to do that, train and maintain their competencies.”
Since joining, Lacy has developed many new experiences and passions through her various roles.
Her passion for land search and rescue, is for her, the epitome of technicality and being hands-on.
“If you’d asked me six years ago if I’d be doing this, I would’ve laughed,” Lacy said.
“It’s helped me gain leadership skills, built confidence – not just being acting unit commander but being a team leader aswell.”
Cobargo bushfire survivor prepared for any disaster
Living in Cobargo during the 2019-20 bushfires, Marty Wraight sadly lost nearly everything.
Friends, his house, possessions and even horses – the bushfires certainly took its toll on the 53-year-old.
Despite this, Marty persevered and put the needs of others first, by helping run the Bermagui Evacuation Centre with other volunteers and emergency services.
“We evacuated over 6,000 people in three days, with no communications outside the town, no electricity, sewerage or running water,” Marty said.
“I bonded with many people and have remained firm friends with them.
“After the fires were out, I was supported by my NSW SES family and many in the local community.”
When asked what drew him to the service, Marty said it was an event some 15 years ago that still lives with him today.
“There was a girl that went missing five doors down from my house in Penrith,” he said.
Without the skills to help find her, he felt useless and decided he would “never be a helpless bystander again”.
Impressed by the SES volunteers’ professionalism, and after a move to the South Coast, Marty joined the Bermagui Unit.
In joining the service, Marty grew passionate about other areas of the service, such as mapping and planning.
But it is a relatively unknown combat responsibility that piqued his interest the most – planning, preparing and responding to tsunamis.
Plans for more representation in northern NSW SES unit
One of Viv Fouracre’s missions is to leave her Moree Unit a better place than when she arrived.
Viv said she planned to do this by empowering her team to learn new skills, as well as encourage the strong Indigenous community to get involved.
“Having a strong representation of who the community is within a local NSW SES unit is incredibly important, and for us we have a big Indigenous community,” the unit commander said.
Growing up in a generation where gender roles were more engrained, Viv has enjoyed learning hands-on skills through her 10 years’ experience with NSW SES.
“Even though I grew up on a farm, using angle grinders was considered too dangerous for women,” Viv said. “My mother could use a chainsaw but it wasn’t encouraged.”
As a retired school principle, Viv had a love for teaching and mentoring.
“Although teaching adults is very different to teaching school students,” she said. “It’s leadership in a different way.
“Children are still developing their personalities whereas adults have already developed theirs.”
Wherever possible, Viv gives all her volunteers an opportunity to shine and feel a sense of achievement.
Even if it takes 100 different ways of explaining a new skill, Viv makes sure mentoring is tailored to the person.
She said NSW SES encourages you to be your best no matter what your background.
“Our Moree SES community is very inclusive and like a family,” she added.
26-year-old Albury milkman on path to NSW SES leadership
At 26 years old, Curtis Kishere is one of the youngest members of the NSW SES Albury Unit, but that has not stopped him getting stuck in and giving everything a go.
Always hands-on, Curtis has worked in his family’s milk delivery business since he was a “young fella”, worked as a chef for several years, and is currently building his own house.
Since joining NSW SES three years ago, one of his most memorable experiences was going to Glen Innes, in the NSW Northern Tablelands, to drive fire trucks and support firefighters in the 2019-20 Bushfires.
Reflecting back on that time, Curtis said it was a great experience to help other agencies.
When asked what his main duties in Albury are, Curtis said if it has a motor or wheels, he looks after it.
“Whether it be vehicles, trailers, vessels and generators, I help maintain it,” he said.
But true to his eagerness, Curtis wants to broaden his skill set too.
“Leadership is a big one for me, but when it comes to being hands on, I also want to complete the chainsaw course so I can help with storm damage jobs,” he said.
“It’s a skill that really interests me and there are only a small number of chainsaw-qualified members in our unit.”
He also jumped at an opportunity to help communities in Western Australia with the impacts of Cyclone Seroja.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t make the trip, as Perth went into a COVID-19 lockdown.
“That would have been a great experience and life-changing work,” Curtis said.
Sharing invaluable NSW SES skills a family affair
Uniting and sharing useful NSW SES skills and knowledge is a family affair for The Rock Deputy Unit Commander Danni Fraser.
The 43 year-old joined the service when she was seven months’ pregnant in 2013.
Her husband, Keith, was already a member, and their now 17-year-old and even seven-year-old daughters are part of the NSW SES family too.
Danni said everyone in the unit has a wealth of knowledge, no matter the generation they belonged to.
“Even the young blokes - who are pretty gun hoe - it’s great seeing them come in and take the time to sit with guys 20 years older than them,” she said.
Danni is a bit of an expert in responding to emergencies, with a background at the Department of Defence.
She loves meeting community members – particularly in regional areas – who were resourceful and resilient people.
She recalled a 90-year-old Port Stephens man who asked for help clearing a tree – all the while offering cups of tea.
“He called us a week after a storm event up there, asking for help with a tree on his house,” Danni said.
“He was trapped in his house for a week with no food or electricity, but he didn’t want to be a hinderance.”
Out bush at The Rock, Danni said everyone is family and the volunteers were there to help when “someone goes down”.
Not only do they work well together, but they have fun together too.
“We spend time together whether it’s playing games, or just hanging out,” she said.
No matter the language or task, Zakia can do it all
No matter the language or the task, Zakia Patel can do it all.
The 33-year-old became involved with NSW SES when she was a 21-year-old university student.
Moving quickly through the ranks, she moved into the position of Unit Commander for the Queanbeyan Unit, which she has now been in for two years.
Not long after taking the reins, the bushfires hit. Stepping up, Zakia led her team as they supported RFS to protect local communities.
As if her love for community was not already enough, she also took on role of Chief Executive of the Queanbeyan Multilingual Centre.
Zakia said a highlight during her time with NSW SES so far was when she travelled to Queensland to support the response to Cyclone Yasi.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” she said.
“I’d only been with the service for two years and it was an unbelievable and humbling experience.
“It made me feel fulfilled that I was doing something really important. We met the most amazing community members – so strong and resilient.”
She was the only member from her unit in the taskforce, and ended up making lifelong friends.
With a passion for helping out during disasters, Zakia decided to study a Advanced Diploma in Public Safety (Emergency Management) and has high hopes for completing it soon.
Singing and rescuing: Bob’s got his town covered
If you live in the small town of Walcha in the state’s Northern Tablelands, chances are you probably know who Bob Burnell is.
He joined NSW SES in 1975, and has been involved in other Walcha community groups, like the local show society, musical society, Meals on Wheels, rugby club, historical club and Lions Club.
Bob’s home town is tight-knit and small enough that a recent recruitment of five members made a big difference.
“Walcha is a small town. When you join SES, you’re not making friends because they’re already your friends,” Bob laughed.
Over 46 years, he became trained in road crash rescue, land search and vertical rescue.
The 75 year-old has reached the age where abseiling wasn’t as easy as it used to be, but he recalled rescuing people from the magnificent nearby waterfall, Apsley Falls.
Saving people and helping at crash sites were rewarding experiences to know the difference you made in a small community.
He spent much of the 2019-2020 summer fighting fires with Forestry Corporation.
Bob was recognised by his local deputy zone commander for his dedication to his unit and his community.
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