Community Heroes! NSW State Emergency Service (SES)

SES volunteers clear a fallen tree
SES volunteers clear a fallen tree

2020 has been a tough year. From bushfires that ravaged through properties and towns, to a deadly global pandemic that has sent the world into lockdown. But there is one constant throughout these crises, and it’s the amazing community support we have here in NSW – and specifically on the North Shore. One of those unsung groups who are always on hand to lend some help is the NSW State Emergency Service (SES) Ku-ring-gai Unit. I’m sure you’ve heard of them, but how much do you know about what they do daily to help our community? This spotlight aims to shed some light on this dedicated, volunteer-based organisation.

NSW State Emergency Service (SES) is committed to assisting the community. The volunteer-based organisation provides emergency assistance to the people of NSW, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, due to flood and storm emergencies. They also support other emergency services with bush search and rescue, evidence searches and other forms of specialist rescue that might be required due to local threat.

How SES helps in an emergency

While their focus is on flood and storm emergencies, the NSW SES support many other departments, offering up their time and services where they can.

Back in January, as the bushfires hit SES units provided ongoing support to the NSW Rural Fire Service:

  • Volunteer Nic deployed to rugged locations to set up multiple Cell on Wheels (or CoW) at Port Macquarie, Wauchope, and on the South Coast. These temporary sites improved frontline radio communications during critical incidents.
  • Volunteers Michelle, Adam, and James L deployed as Radio Operators. James L was based at Kempsey Fire Control Centre (FCC), whilst Michelle and Adam were based at the NSW RFS – Cudgegong District FCC in Mudgee for 5 days. From 8am to 8pm each day, they transmitted and recorded messages between crews, earth-moving machinery, and water-bombing aircraft to/from the firegrounds of Kerry Ridge, Upper Turon/Palmers Oaky, and Meads Creek West.
  • Volunteers Claire, Maddie, and Michelle were taking calls at the Bushfire Information Line (BFIL) and Public Information and Inquiry Centre (PIIC). They answered questions from the public about fires affecting traffic, and helped to reunite friends and family.

By February, we faced multiple weather warnings with heavy rainfall, damaging winds, and more. The SES responded to callouts during these periods, often throughout the night and early morning. One flood rescue call was to a teenage boy stuck on a fire trail in the Lane Cove National Park near Cheltenham. He had begun walking late afternoon, but became flooded in and could not continue walking, so had to seek shelter under a rock. Two Unit Flood Rescue Technicians responded to the job.

Later in February we faced major power outages, with the SES working through hundreds of requests each day. Many of the jobs they received jobs involved power lines, so they work closely with Ausgrid.

As COVID-19 hit in full force in March, the SES had to implement a number of measures to ensure they could still carry out operations, while keeping volunteers safe.

Who are the NSW SES volunteers?

The Ku-ring-gai NSW SES unit (there are several units located across Sydney’s North Shore) has approximately 100 volunteers from the age of 18 and up, and who come from all walks of life and contribute to the operations of the Unit in many different ways.

Many of their volunteers work with individuals and networks within the community to build awareness of the damage that storms can do and how people can help themselves to reduce the risk. Some focus on operational roles, such as an incident controller, community liaison officer or radio communications expert, and others focus on the administration and maintenance aspects of running a unit. Their field teams undertake activities that include temporary emergency repairs to storm damaged homes and businesses, clearing fallen trees from roads, and pumping flood water from properties.

With the storm season running from September to March, the unit is preparing for another busy few months of tarping roofs, clearing fallen trees and flood rescues. Their most recent group of Storm Operators completed their training last weekend, and have this week put their new qualifications to use to assist storm affected residents in both Ku-ring-gai and Sutherland.

The Ku-ring-gai Unit received nearly 2000 requests for assistance during the 2019-2020 storm season, and encourages everyone to take some simple steps which include:

  • Keep your gutters clear
  • Trim branches from nearby trees
  • Secure outdoor items if a storm is approaching

For more information on what you can do to prepare for storm season, or volunteering with the NSW SES visit their website.

If you require emergency assistance in a storm or flood call NSW SES on 132 500, in life-threatening emergencies always call 000.

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