Few people know that there are less than 100 active Men and Women State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers across the whole of Logan City charged with the care of over 250,000 people across over 900 square kilometres in times of emergency?  And due to every one of those needing other employment to look after their families, only 1 in 4 at best may actually be available to help when you call.  More are needed.

When I met with three of these volunteers recently to learn more about the SES, I had many misconceptions cleared up for me, some of which I know will surprise you.  For one, I assumed everybody knew they are actually volunteers, and not “workers”.  But work very hard they do, of course, just for the love of it and their community, as there is no pay for them.  The call may come late at night to attend a tragic motor vehicle accident to supply lighting for the other emergency services on the scene, and they may not be able to crawl back into bed until an hour before their kids come and wake them up again.  They do this unpaid, with no overtime or penalties, and not enough thanks.

Another thing I assumed was that the State supplied most of their operational funding – not true.  Logan City Council supplies the vast majority of funding required. Emergency Management Queensland provides a wide range of equipment, training and personel protective equipment  Brett McDonaugh, SES Group Leader based in Beenleigh and media spokesman for Logan’s SES also wants us to be correctly informed that that since amalgamation, no SES groups (locations) have been shut down anywhere, as some people have incorrectly thought happened in Logan Village.  All groups meet for training every Wednesday night across the city in localities including Daisy Hill, Beenleigh, Logan Central, Park Ridge and of course Logan Village.

Brett, a manager in a local building materials construction company, joined the SES straight out of school, 19 years ago.  At the other end of the scale, Matthew Issell, 24, has only been in the service 18 months, but is already distinguishing himself, and has been recognised with appointment as third in charge.  In his day job, Matt is assistant manager in a furniture store.  When probed for his reasons behind joining the service, Matt answered, “Because I wanted some way of getting involved in the community.  The social side appealed to me, of getting to know people like me who were willing to do the hard work – SES is a way of life.  The camaraderie goes beyond mateship and you actually become like family.”

Dean Marsden, 41, and Group Leader at Logan Village agreed.  “Brett (McDonaugh) interviewed me when I joined 8 years ago, and now we have BBQs at each other’s homes and our kids play together.  But one of the biggest rewards for us as instructors is when new members like Matt are recruited, put in the hard yards to do their training, get rewarded for the effort, and end up training new recruits by your side.  That’s very satisfying.”  Dean’s employer, Dulux Paints, is to be thanked for supporting the community by actually inventing “emergency service leave” just for Dean; as he used to have to take his days off to volunteer, and would come back to work the next day.  We need more employers like that in Logan!

The SES training is high quality, nationally recognised, and constant.  A smart employer will give an SES volunteer extra points in interviews and career opportunities because of the attitude and character it takes to give back to your community without pay, and the personal leadership it develops in you.  Thankfully, most employers in Qld support their employees who also volunteer and release them for emergencies.  Of course, volunteers still need to communicate and negotiate with their employers, as some understanding and flexibility may be required.

You have to be 18 to join the LOGAN SES, although an Emergency Services Cadet program (www.emergency.qld.gov.au/cadets) is available for kids 13 to 16 years old.  A career as a volunteer in the SES will see you progressively trained to achieve accreditation for various tasks, skills, and situations.  You may be called upon to assist with forensic searches, missing persons, storm damage, flood events, road accident rescue/traffic control, air observer, welfare & support services, vertical rescue, natural disaster evacuation, fodder/food drops, medical evacuations, and even rescue stranded animals.  The SES doesn’t, however, actually fight fires – another one of my misconceptions (although they will support the firies with welfare etc).

I asked the boys what they would change to help the SES if they were Mayor, Premier, or Prime Minister.  Ideas like tax breaks for volunteer-related expenses were suggested.  Also suggested was better efforts at promoting & advertising the SES opportunities, like we see for the defence forces.  Maybe there’s a city, state or federal representative reading this who’ll agree that’s a good idea.

Next time you see an Angel in Orange, remember they’ve probably just finished a full day’s work at their day job, fought with traffic all the way to check their own home before rushing out volunteering to help us.  Please, don’t complain about them taking longer than you expected to get to you.  Offer them a cuppa and your thanks.  Storm season’s here, and volunteer enquiries often happen after an emergency.    If you’re available on the average Wednesday night, maybe you’ll agree 25 volunteers is not enough to protect your family and home and the rest of the city in emergencies, and you’ll call 3209 5522 to volunteer, today.

This story was written for and first published in the Logan magazine, “Inside Special” in January 2010, by David Pellowe.