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Things you only know if you’re an SES volunteer

State Emergence Service volunteer Kathy Garancsi stands in front of SES trucks
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

… according to Kathy Garancsi, a NSW State Emergency Service (SES) volunteer

SES volunteers are on call 24/7, and we’re like a family
“It could be a tree down on a house or water coming in through the ceiling; we’ve got specialist units that are involved in road crash rescue, so they turn up during car accidents; or you have flood specialists who go out and help people who, sadly, continue to drive through flood waters. Volunteers put their own lives at risk to try to help others, and there’s a special kind of bond within the team we have to watch each other’s back to make sure that we continue to be safe as well.”

We’re a hugely committed bunch
“The words that I hear a lot are ‘giving back’, and I think there’s a little bit of that in everyone. There are people who are estranged from their families and don’t always get a chance to give back, so I think they volunteer as a way to feel good by giving that time, energy and love. That’s what makes volunteering special, whether it’s the SES or RFS, Meals on Wheels, or Lions Clubs they’re all committed people that just want to help.”

You don’t have to be on the ground in emergency situations
“Not everyone wants to go out in the truck and they don’t have to. There are people who are very happy to help in operations and answer calls, organise the logistics or even the community events. We run cadet programs for kids aged 16-18, we go to schools, have a school holiday program, so there’s lots of different avenues for different people. It’s their own journey, so they can decide what they want to do.”

The SES plays an essential role in emergency response
“Our role is specifically around storms, floods and tsunamis. Then you have the fire service who’re responsible for bushfires and so on, and then police for land searches. So everyone knows what their role is, then we could potentially come in and support those other agencies. For us, if a storm comes through, there could be roof damage, there could be flooding, overflowing gutters or roads, there could be trees down or uprooted. Our teams could have one job or hundreds depending on the nature [of the event].”

Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

There’s a huge amount of training
“[Volunteers] do first aid, communications – so learning how to use the radio, and traffic safety – because often we need to be able to guide people around when we’re parking the trucks, and we also do flood rescue awareness. We’re asking people to go into very difficult situations sometimes, whether it’s land searches or climbing roofs. We have to make sure they’re fully trained to do that. It’s our duty of care.”

Mental health awareness is also key
“We have support teams in the event that something has occurred or [the volunteers] have seen some traumatic events. We also have chaplaincy teams within SES and peer support groups. So there’s a lot of classroom training to build them up to that point, and then we also have mentors that can help prepare them. Often people come with their own stories, and we need to be very careful that they don’t relive some of those stories based on what we do.”

Our volunteers represent our diverse community
“People see volunteering as a very elderly domain or very male domain, but the reality is that there’s lots of opportunities for all age groups and all cultural groups, because our community is a mixture of all of those things. I love the mix of my team, because I learn lots of things from them as well.”

Become a volunteer with the SES.

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