Bound for South Australia
By Steve Wells – Cockburn SES Unit
I was lucky enough to be selected as part of the first deployment of WA SES members who went to South Australia to assist with the flood and storm damage which affected much of their state. We were given a succinct briefing by Superintendent Amanda Williamson focussing on the five values we were expected to uphold, namely resilience, interoperability (with other jurisdictions and states), chain of command, safety and conduct. These are well worth considering for unit and local operations. We had a false start on Wednesday when our plane had to return to Perth due to inclement weather conditions at Adelaide.
Arriving on Thursday we were made welcome by local SES management and received a detailed briefing. They use a roof safety system when working at heights. Unlike us they do not use a z rig to tension their main line, instead they tie off their rope tensioned by pulling it taught. They also use a full body harness. There were two teams making up Strike Force Black Swan, I was part of the 4 team Quokkas consisting of metro SES members, whilst the Dugites all came slithering from the South West of WA. Both groups acquitted themselves brilliantly (I am not biased – they did!). Teams were typically 4 persons with a range of skills and experience but all having some capacity with storm damage, general rescue and chainsaw. The jobs we were called out to required a degree of physical fitness too. These may be worth units and members reflecting on in terms of operational potential.
Our Strike Force spent times in the Adelaide Hills dealing with storm damage issues on our first day. We received call outs and responded just like back home except we saw heaps of flooded creeks, large branches strewn across paddocks and pine trees to 40 meters fallen in many inconvenient places like house roofs, over fences and roads. For many of us cutting sections of pine trees with trunks over 3 meters thick was a new experience but we were able to support to people in need.
We spent a day at Twin Wells near where the Gwalla River had burst its banks adding more water to an already flooded landscape. Driving along creeks and rivers which were once main roads was a new experience and lugging full sandbags by the pallet was heavy going but rewarding as we all helped to secure houses from further flood damage in many cases. Towards the end of our time in flood country where we were going from house to house making sure people were ok, and assisting them if necessary.
What I got from this interstate deployment was the following:
- Our SES organisation is at least equal to any other in the country. The locals were glowing in their genuine respect and appreciation for what we did.
- DFES is able to respond at relatively short notice to organise a major deployment in a complex situation which involves lots of organisation and cross agency/state coordination.
- DFES is committed to ensuring that our people are looked after when a deployment like this happens. I was extremely impressed with the leadership skills of Superintendent Williamson and her team. We felt supported but also our leadership was approachable and a part rather than apart of our team.
- Our SES members across units have a natural bond and we are able to work together as effective teams. I have met many people from WA units who are now part of my extended SES family.