Why We Work As One

Why We Work As One

25/06/2021, 5:07 PM

Managing a large-scale emergency takes planning, partnership and practice.

At a rescue boat skills maintenance weekend in May, 60 Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) volunteers and members from Shepparton Search and Rescue Squad, along with Eildon Country Fire Authority (CFA) and Coast Guard Eppalock, held a training exercise.

Victoria Police had provided two Water Police Coordinators so that members had an opportunity to learn from the folks who had led aquatic rescues.  The first exercise involved a search for a missing person in a lakeside location. The second involved a flooded houseboat, where rescue boat crews had to work to evacuate residents.

“The weekend was a great success full of lessons for all the agencies, but most importantly it gave us a chance to be more than the sum of our parts as emergency responders,” says Justin Navas.

With more than 1,000 staff and volunteers deployed in areas recently impact by the June storms, and hundreds more on standby, these exercises can save lives.  To maintain services and quality of life for disaster-hit communities, local councils have been working with Australian Red Cross; Australian Defence Forces (ADF); CFA; Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV); Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) in addition to other relief agencies.

“Throughout the recent storm events, hundreds of CFA members have provided significant support to our emergency sector partners, particularly VICSES,” says CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan. “Our members have been working side-by-side with VICSES both on the ground and within Incident Management Teams based in Incident Control Centres, as well as the State Control Centre during and after the severe weather event.

“In addition to VICSES,” says Jason, “we’re always happy to work alongside our sector partner agencies such as FRV, FFMV, Ambulance Victoria and Victoria Police.”

The complexity of rolling this many agencies into an operational force, to take on a disaster, is managed through the State Control Centre (SCC) in Melbourne, along with individual Incident Control Centres (ICCs) in affected areas. When destructive winds and heavy rains downed trees in elevated areas of the Central Highlands, members of Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV) were indispensable partners, as their crews along with VICSES and CFA volunteers moved through hazardous terrain.

“This work demonstrates how agile and dedicated our CFA membership is and attests to the teamwork across Victoria’s emergency service agencies,” says Jason Heffernan.

The devastating impacts of the severe weather are still being felt by residents and wider communities across the state, particularly in the Dandenong Ranges and La Trobe Valley areas. “When you have over 8000 requests for assistance after a storm, it can take a while to get through them all,” says David Baker, VICSES Deputy Chief Officer. “We are thankful to have VicForests loggers partnering with us and FFMV to get through this work and open communities up.”

Once the widespread nature of the damage was revealed in the aftermath of the storms, Bushfire Recovery Victoria (BRV) established a presence in three of the areas most impacted, to manage the resources being deployed the different specialist agencies involved in the clean-up, and to get ahead of future threats.

BRV were concerned the debris from the shock weather event - enough to fill the MCG - were not just traffic hazards, but could become fuel during the next bushfire season.  “Our members are continuing this work with VICSES, and other agencies, to remove those fallen trees and the danger they represent to our communities now, and in the future.” says Jason Heffernan.

AS VICSES and CFA crews work to help AusNet, power agencies and road authorities to clear roads and provide access to communities. “Forest Fire Management Victoria are bringing in extra chainsaw crews to help clear those roads along the way,” says Tim Wiebusch, VICSES Chief Officer Operations, “so we are hoping that in the coming days we’ll be able to get some of those remaining roads open.”

These relationships, made and tested by these events, save lives as our 5,000 VICSES volunteers will tell you. Our volunteers come from the towns, sleepy shires and great cities they serve, strengthening the social bond between our agencies and our communities.

Not since the bushfire season, starting in 2019, have we seen such a significant emergency response in Victoria. With resources from CFA, VICSES and other agencies deployed across the state, it’s easy to forget what it takes to build this vast response.