Volunteers receive rare honour following Bright water rescue

Volunteers receive rare honour following Bright water rescue

01/03/2023, 11:15 AM

This week, 12 Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) Bright Unit volunteers received a rare Commendation for Service Award, for the role each played in the rescue of a 16 year-old boy on Friday, 7th January 2022, at Bright Centennial Park.

The boy had been swept over a low weir dam during flood conditions. Previous attempts to rescue the boy by community onlookers having failed; seeing local life buoy equipment swept downstream, by fast-flowing water.

The volunteers were led by crew leader Marcus Warner - who was the first on the scene - and Incident Agency Commander (IAC) Graham Gales. Their crew included Trina Friend; James Sadgrove; Jon Miller; Gabrielle Stratton; Paul Watson; Russell Maunder; Dermot Meany, and Jarrod Vanderree. Two further members - Gordon Thomas and Roy Kennedy - coordinated resources and personnel responding across the wider region, and from other agencies, at the local headquarters.

The citation received by the volunteers says that they, "displayed exceptional leadership, rescue principles, and safety considerations during the improvised rescue, in what was a confronting and stressful event for all members involved.”

The actions of the Bright crew meant the boy was recovered, preventing serious injury or death to the teenager and to the bystanders attempting to rescue the boy.

It has been nearly a decade since the last VICSES Commendation for Service Award was awarded to any member of the service, which makes the award ceremony this week even more special.

Timeline of events:

  • At 7.38pm on Saturday 7 January 2022, the VICSES Bright Unit received a Request For Assistance (RFA) for a Rescue Persons, to a 16-year-old male.
  • The initial call advised the boy was clinging to rocks within the river.
  • Nine VICSES Bright Unit volunteers attended Bright Centennial Park in response, along with other emergency services, and were supported by the local headquarters.
  • At this time, community members were also attempting to jump into the low weir dam to conduct a civilian rescue.
  • With the young male stranded for some time and a Land-Based Swift Water Rescue team called for but approximately an hour away, our highly-trained VICSES volunteers devised a rescue plan, with the members improvising; utilising ropes and a sling technique based on other rescue disciplines, using their experience from General Rescue, Road Rescue and Technical Rescue
  • The young male was pulled successfully from the river by volunteers and delivered into the care of Ambulance Victoria paramedics at 8:10pm
  • The VICSES Bright unit undertook this improvised rescue in front of a crowd of about 200 people.

Significant rain in the four days prior to the rescue amounted to 130mm falling upstream at Mt Hotham. The Ovens River at Bright Centennial Park had received increased flows and, as a result, the water had become much deeper - and faster - than usual.

Strong water flows can carry people downstream, onto rocks, and potentially cause injury.

In this case, silt had filled in sections of the river where it was previously safe to dive, and submerged items such as rocks, logs, and branches.

Since this incident, the VICSES Bright Unit volunteers have been trained and accredited as a Land Based Swift Water Rescue (LBSWR) unit, and now possess critical specialist equipment to undertake future rescues.

Visitors to riverside locations should always follow the advice provided by local council and emergency services and children should always be supervised when swimming. 

The event was attended by Chief Officer, Operations, Tim Wiebusch, and Assistant Chief Officer, Ray Jasper.

Quotes attributable to VICSES Chief Officer, Operations, Tim Wiebusch:

“The situation at the time of this incident was nothing short of physically, mentally and emotionally demanding, for our volunteers but I am incredibly proud of the skill and dedication of the Bright members and commend them for their quick, critical thinking, demonstration of rescue techniques that arguably saved the life of the 16 year old male

“While an improvised rescue technique was used at the time of this incident, the members on scene displayed fine examples of the VICSES values of "focused and adaptable", "we are part of our community", and "safety drives our decisions".

“They perfectly embody what it means to be a VICSES volunteer and I could not be prouder of them.”

Quotes attributable to Graham Gales, VICSES Bright Unit, and Unit Controller:

“The actions of my crew members on this day, not only recovered the boy, but also prevented further serious injury or death to the teenager and bystanders who had been attempting the rescues.”

“These actions greatly reflect the values and community driven focus of not only the organisation, but the Bright Unit as a whole, and I could not be prouder to serve with them all.”

Quotes attributable to Marcus Warner, VICSES Bright Unit, and Deputy Unit Controller:

“Every rescue is different, but this one was particularly difficult with so many onlookers, who were also putting themselves in danger to try and rescue the young boy, it was very stressful. There were a lot of considerations we needed to make, before we could even begin the improvised rescue.”

“I’m proud of my members, we worked with what we had at hand, and thankfully this was a successful rescue with a great outcome.”

VICSES Bright Unit crew attending commendation ceremony, Monday, 1 March 2023.