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A Controller's tale

Published 14/05/2013

During National Volunteer Week, we asked Luke Dam to tell us about a day in the life of an SES volunteer.

Hi, my name is Luke Dam. I'm the Controller of the Woodend SES Unit. Woodend is located in the beautiful Macedon Ranges, on the Calder Freeway.

The Woodend Unit has been through a busy period with jobs, recruitment and public relations activities raising the Unit's profile in the last three years. We've responded to more than 160 calls for assistance so far this year. Last financial year we responded to more than 330 and 650 the year before. Luke Dam

We've grown from a small unit of eight members to a very active 32 members in this period as well.

I've been an SES volunteer for over 15 years now, originally coming from a busy Metropolitan Unit before doing the tree-change with my wife and children (four under 10!).

I've been the Unit Controller for approximately 18 months. My work sees me travelling around various parts of Australia each month providing a wide range of Health and Safety and Emergency Management advice and training for my employer.

On top of this, I'm also the Editor of the SES volunteers association (VESA) magazine, Phoenix.

 A Day in the Life

This is a hard one. I don't think there is a typical day for an SES volunteer, especially a Unit Controller.

From a Woodend Unit perspective, we go hot and cold with callouts, with prolonged periods of no calls and then a sudden onset of an event such as a flood or storm which sees a wide range of calls received.

There are two primary differences I've noticed coming from a metro area to a rural area

1) The nature of the calls is different. When we get called to a tree on a road or a house, generally they're huge trees! I think the biggest I've chainsawed through so far would be about a 1.3 metre diameter. We also get different weather- we often joke that Woodend gets a nine month winter, with heavy frosts, long stretches of black ice weather and snow.

2) The resilience in the community is different. It's not uncommon to get a call, even in the middle of the night or early hours and a crew will arrive to find a farmer is either already there and has moved the tree with their tractor or chainsaw, or they're in the process of doing so. This has been a big mindset change to what I've been used to coming from a metro area.

I've also noticed that though we don't get many calls for Road Crash Rescues (thankfully), when we do, they're bigger. That's bigger in terms of speed (110km speed limits), big trucks including B-Doubles, and often long duration. We attended a fatal truck accident late last year which saw the crews on scene for 9 hours.

A typical day for me? Up early, generally about 0600 hours, showered and off to work or the airport. I will often log in and do a check of Unit emails first thing and forward on to the appropriate Section Leader for action, or to the whole Unit as an FYI or for them to action, such as training nominations. I often do this as many as 3-4 times per day.

My Role as Editor of Phoenix

The volunteer role of Editor for the Phoenix magazine is done on top of my day-to-day activities in the workplace and as Controller.

By way of background, VESA is the association that represents the volunteer members to SES management and the Government, in issues related to them. Phoenix is the Association's magazine, although it is often mistaken as the SES'.

As Editor, I regularly contact units around the state and chase articles and photos for inclusion in each edition;  Phoenix is printed bi-monthly. Once articles are received I review and amend them accordingly to ensure readability and that they fit within our guidelines. 

If I took the entire time it takes to chase units, return phone calls and liaise with the publishers and the VESA Board in relation to each edition, it'd probably add up to 2-3 days per month. This is all done again in my own time. 


Without a doubt, SES is a big part of my life. As it is for so many others! It does take time, but the rewards are well worth it. I wouldn't be where I'm at now without the skills and experiences I've gained through the Service.

Give it a go!

Say thanks to an SES volunteer this week at our Facebook page and view our "Thanks a Million!" photo album.