Getting resilient with scholarship winner Carina Heppell

Getting resilient with scholarship winner Carina Heppell

Her passion for community safety and preparedness will see her undertake a large research project that will give SES the important ‘intel’ it needs to help Victorians become disaster resilient.

Hair-raising beginnings

Carina started with SES in high school as a cadet throughout year 11 and 12. “You got to learn awesome new skills and we abseiled down the water tower in Wangaratta,” she recalls. “We ran forwards. It was scary as hell, but you trusted the equipment and people around you.”

Safety first

Known for her hard-line on safety – Carina earned a Certificate 4 in Health and Safety, and applies this knowledge to keep her SES team members safe. Knowledge she uses at work with Uncle Toby’s on the production line too.

Support at work

Uncle Toby’s always support Carina’s volunteer efforts. They let her travel for SES events three times a year, and if she’s been on call during a particularly stormy, wet night, they support a recovery day off work the next day.

“We get volunteer leave for a number of days off, after then, you work it out with your boss,” Carina says.

One big orange family

Knowing you’re making a difference is a big drawcard that makes the long nights and tougher jobs worth it. “The search and rescues are often the most rewarding and memorable,” she says about the unique reward for reuniting missing loved ones.

She counts team work and a wide range of practical skills development for keeping her interested and passionate about the SES. “I’ve learnt a lot, particularly about the effectiveness of volunteers working together.”

“Everyone welcomes everyone, no matter what your background is. There is a role for everyone, regardless of your ability. And even though we can irritate each other at times, we still love and support one another too,” she adds.


Nothing beats being prepared

Carina was involved in the hugely successful Whorouly multi-agency community day. Ten different emergency services and community organisations from the Country Fire Authority (CFA), Emergency Management Victoria, Lions Club, Red Cross Australia, Victoria Police and local churches joined the local community to discuss being flood ready and learn what to do in an emergency.

“They learnt how to sandbag – how to fill them properly and where to put them, such as in your toilet, and cover any drains such as your shower. Basic first aid was taught plus a ‘pillow case plan’,” says Carina. Kids draw the important things they want to take out of the house when an emergency strikes onto their pillow case. This could include their favourite teddy or book.

Whorouly means ‘under water’ in Aboriginal language. Shortly after the event, heavy rain came and flooded the area. Parents reported that their kids knew exactly what to do, thanks to all they learnt.

“They were proud of what their kids knew and very grateful for SES teaching them,” Carina says. “One kid had an injury and knew to drag his brother along by a blanket to make it easier. The flood recovery was easier and people knew how to better protect their property.”

Creating a more resilient Victoria

Carina will use her scholarship to conduct research that will inform the best ways to help people respond and recover better in emergencies. Preparation is key.

Her research will explore three types of emergencies: floods, storms and fire (bush and grass) to examine effective habits and actions in emergencies.

“I’d like to see people become more proactive,” Carina says.

Her top tips for better preparation include:

  1. Have a plan (even if it is just verbal, make sure everyone knows about it, including the kids)
  2. Prepare an emergency kit
  3. Clean your gutters
  4. Clear up loose items around your property and tie down anything that might float away.

“What’s interesting is, when you prepare for one type of emergency, you will be preparing for all.”


Emergency Services Foundation Scholarship enables emergency services personnel, paid or volunteer, to undertake advanced studies in Australia or overseas. Learn more.

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