Aggression toward our volunteers is not okay

Aggression toward our volunteers is not okay

27/10/2021, 5:45 PM

Volunteers go out of their way, often in severe weather, to help their community in times of crisis so it’s only right that, at the Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES), we support and protect them.

On a wet Monday night, 18th October, volunteer Michael Young led a crew from VICSES Upper Yarra Unit to deal with a large gum which had dropped a limb on to a property at Warburton. The volunteers mounted the roof and, using ropes to stabilise the limb as they worked, they cut into the tree with their chainsaws.

At around 7pm, a neighbour came out and stood at his property line and, using expletives and threats, showed aggression which progressed to threatening the crew’s safety. At this point, the crew retreated to their truck and called the dispatch operator to request police assistance.

This sets up a chain of events in which Duty Officers and Agency Commanders are notified, while working with the crew leader on scene to ensure the volunteers have peer support, with each to be contacted for a follow-up conversation. Police attended the scene.

On Thursday, 14th October Traralgon residents, inundated by a heavy downpour, made around 100 calls for help to the VICSES Morwell Unit, most of which were received in a ninety-minute period before 6.30pm. Setting up a triage system to manage the requests, the unit sent out four vehicles and worked through them as quickly as possible.

At around 8pm, four VICSES volunteers arrived at a property to be greeted with the resident screaming in their faces, demanding to know why the crew hadn’t come straight away. As there was no risk of flooding to the property, the crew leader explained they had been needed to rescue trapped motorists from floodwater and provide sandbags to her most vulnerable neighbours before attending to her. As she became more agitated the volunteers, becoming intimidated, left the scene.

Aggression against our volunteers is never acceptable and thankfully, still rare. However, if you see our volunteers it because they have left the warmth of home to answer a call for help. They are good neighbours and remarkable people and, sometimes, the call they answer will be yours.

Quote attributable to VICSES Morwell Unit Controller, Raelene Billingsley:

“Remember we are an emergency service. We are there for a reason and the next time we are there it could be to help you.”

Quote attributable to VICSES Regional Duty Officer, Dimity Lynch:

“Be nice. Be kind. We’ve all got things to do. We don’t want to be waking neighbours up and disturbing them with chainsaws but someone needed help, so as an emergency service we were helping them.”

Quote attributable to VICSES Psychologist, Paul Fitzgerald:

“It points to the range of different situations our members will find themselves in, and there’s no way to prepare for everything. That’s the high level of risk that our volunteers can occasionally find themselves in. There’s no typical trauma.”

“Remember, they’re a member of the community like you. They might wear orange in that moment, but otherwise they’re serving your meat at the butchers, doing your accounts or maybe even assisting your community as a police officer. So, try to have compassion and see that we’re all made of the same stuff.”