SES volunteer Mike Bagnall from Gisborne Unit just fulfilled his life-long ambition – to rescue a cat out of a roof.
Of course, cat rescues aren’t all that common. Most volunteer work revolves around storm and flood response. “A lot of calls are for storm jobs, building damage or trees fallen on houses or across driveways,” Mike says. “We go and clear it up.”
It was touch-and-go for Calvin the cat. He’d been trapped for a couple of nights but wasn’t so pleased about his rescue Mike admits. It was a deceptively complex job. A team of five SES members helped herd Calvin into a corner of the roof, removed some tiles and returned him to his happy and relieved owner.
A desire to give back
“When someone needs help, I imagine if that was me or my family or someone I cared about,” Mike explains. “I’ve got an ability to do something about it, and it feels good to be able to help – it’s that simple.”
“Gisborne is a small community. I’ve lived there for nine years and I wanted to contribute and give back,” Mike explains. “The SES was attractive for the skills you learn and the tasks you get involved in.”
Volunteering at the SES provides Mike with an outlet to fix and build things that his desk bound security job doesn’t allow. “There’s a well-planned training program and every single week you learn something new.”
So far Mike received training in:
- General rescue
- Australasian Interservice Incident Management System (AIIMS) introduction
- Road crash rescue
One in, all in
Mike joined the SES 18 months ago, shortly after his wife Marissa joined as an associate member who helps out with events. Their two kids Billie, 4, and Robbie, 2, are also involved with their very own miniature uniforms.
“The Gisborne Unit is very much a family unit,” Mike says. This family culture was embedded by former Unit Controller Ralph Walling. “He has terrific morals and ethics and a tremendous ability to impart and coach others. Ralph built a culture of inclusion and welcome that’s here to stay. Everyone contributes regardless of ability, age and length of service.”
The kids often join members at a fete or fundraising event. “The cute factor means they make more money than we do,” he laughs. “On a Saturday morning, if you’re required at the unit for a training or event, the kids are welcome, along with toys kept at the unit for them to play with.”
The reality for volunteers with family is that you can be time poor. And the demands of midnight calls for assistance make it very important to have family support to do what you do. “Gisborne Unit’s focus on family first, SES next, means everyone contributes what they can, but all are seen as equal,” Mike says.
Families face the unknown
Mike recalls gardening when the pager went off. It was a call to assist a road rescue. “I jumped in the car immediately and took off,” Mike says. “I messaged Marissa that I was responding to a job.”
Running out the door without notice is common – as a volunteer, it’s not just you but your family who are impacted. “In that moment she has no idea where I’m going, what scenario I’m going to face, what I’m going to see or go through. I could be 20 minutes or three hours.”
The upshot is the powerful adrenaline rush and tremendous buzz he gets. “When you come away from a road rescue, it’s the thought you may have contributed to someone being better than they would have been had you not shown up.”
Volunteering with the SES is certainly eye-opening. In such a small community Mike has responded to 7 road rescues this year alone. Previously he thought there were only one or two road crashes per year. “It changes the way you think and drive. You are a lot more aware of what can go wrong.”
Since becoming an SES member Mike moved from general member to Unit Officer Work, Health and Safety. He considers it the most important role in the unit. “Safety is everyone’s responsibility, but I’m responsible for the coordination aspect that ensures everyone has access to the information and equipment they need to keep themselves safe.”
“As an SES member of a unit you are involved in a community group that is purely 100% volunteers,” Mike says. “When you’re in trouble, we’ll come and help.”
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