Volunteering for the Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) can be one of the most rewarding and best investments you can make. As a VICSES volunteer, you can make a difference.
Although volunteers are unpaid, there are lots of benefits, both personally and professionally, including the sense of achievement and pride that comes from giving something back to your community. Volunteers have a wide range of opportunities to develop new skills, form new friendships, accept high levels of responsibility and enjoy the team spirit of a tightly knit unit.
Here are the stories of some of our amazing volunteers.
70+ years and bringing home gold
Left to right: Jackie Ashman, Keith Hunter and Louise Ashman at the 2016 Victorian Police and Emergency Services Games.
Keith Hunter, Yackandandah Unit, is over 70 years old and according to his daughter, has never been a great swimmer – but now he’s bringing home gold medals as part of the Police and Emergency Services Games.
Keith’s daughter, Jackie Ashman, is the unit controller and is also joined at the unit by her daughter Louise and mother Ann. Jackie was the first to join the SES, followed by her father.
Since joining the SES the four of them have been competing at the Police and Emergency Service Games in the swimming events which have been a highlight for them as a family.
“We have been doing this for a long time and love the events and the social side of the games. We have met a great bunch of volunteers and staff there.
“And, we always come home with medals which is lovely,” Jackie said.
“Dad has never been a great swimmer and he is now winning gold medals! Louise and I are rivals at the backstroke – she beats me at that stroke and loves to tell everyone,” she joked.
Jackie said there were many benefits to having her family involved in the unit; including enjoying their company and seeing them develop and apply new skills.
“I am very proud of my dad as he is 70+ and is doing a really good job. He is always at the unit helping out and he is also starting to become a good crew leader.
Keith joined in February 2008 after he retired and Jackie suggested he join the unit.
“He has achieved heaps as a member including his cert IV in training and assessing. He has learnt many skills and is currently one of our training officers. He is a good chainsaw operator and he is also our maintenance officer especially for the chainsaws,” Jackie said.
Her daughter Louise joined in 2011 and was the unit’s first junior member.
“She’s completed a lot of training and is now the unit’s WHS officer too.
“She has shown great leadership skills and I think her being in the unit is good for both of us as we often talk about SES issues. She is also a wiz at the computer so can help me out when I need it.
“She is now 21 years old and I can’t see her giving up SES,” Jackie said.
Ann Hunter, Jackie’s mother, joined the unit two months after her husband Keith in April 2008 as an associate member.
“She makes sure our fridge is full of goodies. Everyone loves having her around. She knows who likes what food and makes sure she gets it for the members.
“She was also awarded a recognition award in 2015 for the dedication she has provided for our unit presented by our local mayor,” Jackie said.
When asked if there’d been any challenges for them as a family along the way, Jackie said she worried if they’d take her seriously.
“As controller I did wonder if they would all take instructions from me, or take me seriously as the controller and not just the daughter or the mum. There has never been a problem and I respect them for that,” she said.
So, are there any other Ashman’s/Hunter’s to join the unit?
“Maybe I could look into the future and have a grandchild join. Wouldn’t that be nice? But that won’t be for a while yet,” Jackie said.
Three generations of women serve Rutherglen
Three generations of women from the Cracknell family are serving the Rutherglen Unit.
Irene Cracknell, who was the first to join in 1981, is now joined by her daughter Jennie and granddaughter Amy.
“Roger Hall (the Controller at the time) asked me to join – I think he wanted an admin officer/tea lady! I held the position of Administration Officer/Treasurer for 17 years until being appointed as Unit Controller in May 1998,” Irene said.
She is currently Deputy Controller and her local and international volunteer efforts have not gone unnoticed.
In 2003, Irene was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for her service to the community through health, social welfare and emergency service groups.
Summing up her SES experience, Irene said it gave her skills, friendships, confidence, reliability, strength and resilience.
Her daughter Jennie joined the SES in 1981 when she was 17 years old.
Jennie was a general response member in Rutherglen and Wodonga units for several years before becoming a peer support member helping out other volunteers across the North East Region.
Four years ago, Irene’s granddaughter and Jennie’s niece, Amy, joined the SES.
Amy responds as a general response member when she can and is now going down the pathway of becoming a Community Education Facilitator, which will give her the skills to facilitate community resilience activities building a stronger community better able to withstand emergencies.
“My granddaughter Amy calls me her best friend and role model – how good is that?!” Irene said.
All three women agreed they got enjoyment out of helping their community, have benefited from significant personal development opportunities, made lots of friends and above all, were given the opportunity to do things they otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do.
Irene’s sister Chris Pertzel also joined the unit in 1992 as a training officer.
“I think women have a lot of collective skills to offer SES in so many different areas. As for women in my family, I hope they remain active in the SES and continue to get as much out of being a member as I have over the years,” Irene said.
When asked what the men in their lives thought about their involvement with the SES, Irene said they were proud of what the women had achieved.
As it turns out, some of the men in the family have also been involved with the SES.
Irene’s husband Bruce Cracknell joined in 1979 and had 33 years’ experience before retiring.
“SES was something that Bruce and I had in common – it was good to have Bruce around with his knowledge of all things mechanical, his radio expertise, first aid qualifications and driving instructor knowledge. He was particularly helpful when I was Unit Controller,” Irene said.
Amy’s brother Nathan was an SES cadet and their Dad David was also a member for a short time.
Manningham Unit - Mahum
Joined: February 2009, (7 years).
Roles: Deputy Crew Leader (2012-2013), Crew leader (2013-2015), Duty Officer (2012-present).
Skills: Australasian Inter-service Incident Management System, crew leader, chainsaw, first aid, rooftop safety system, emergency vehicle status, occupational health & safety, working at a CFA incident, traffic management, forward hand (boats), introduction to emergency management, land search and rescue, operational incident management system, storm and water damage, mobile command vehicle/forward command vehicle, map & navigation.
What do you do away from SES? Professionally, I work as a logistics manager for a medium-size retail company. In my spare time I enjoy working on my car, hanging out with friends, photography and spending time in the outdoors.
Why did you join the SES? I guess I just really wanted to help people - I know it sounds like a cliché, and 99% of SES volunteers probably say the same thing, but it was certainly what prompted me to sign up. At that point in time I was in my second year of university so I had lots of spare time, but the funny thing was that I actually registered my interest for CFA. I got a letter back from the local CFA unit indicating that I was outside the turnout area, which was a little bit disappointing but it prompted me to look elsewhere. I stumbled across SES soon after and went through the recruiting process with little idea about what I was actually getting into. Seven years on, I couldn't be happier!
What keeps you coming back? There are a whole heap of things that keep me coming back, but friendship and being able to pass on the knowledge and skills that I have attained over the years are some of the bigger ones. Also, I love the fact that no job is ever the same, which keeps it really interesting and challenging and at the end of the day, every time I go to a job it’s really satisfying to know that I’ve helped someone out when they've been having a rough time.
Has there been a highlight or stand out moment during your time with the SES? As much as I’ve enjoyed working in my local community, opportunities to deploy to significant events outside of metropolitan Melbourne have been personal highlights. I’ve been on four major flood and storm deployments: Koonoomoo (VIC), Stawell (VIC), Kerang/Swan Hill (VIC) and Tweed Heads (NSW). Koonoomoo was the most memorable; the area had been devastated by a freak tornado. I was lucky enough to be deployed with a very experienced member and friend from Manningham, which was really beneficial for my development. As we drove into the area there wasn’t a tree standing higher than five metres - they had all been broken off at the same height, it was quite eerie actually. Almost every building in the small town had been hit, with the General Store losing its roof and the petrol pump completely disappearing. Whilst it was extremely unfortunate for the people of Koonoomoo, I was grateful for the opportunity to help them get back on track and make things a little bit easier to bear.
South Barwon Unit - Scott Clark
VICSES South Barwon Unit member, Scott Clark, encourages people to join the Victoria SES. Scott, a self-employed fencer joined the Victoria State Emergency Service in 1998. Scott undertakes many roles within the unit including:
- Media Liaison
- Community education
- Road , Air, Industrial Rescue
- Storm, Flood, Earthquake and Tsunami response