Camperdown volunteers represent throughout Barwon South West

Camperdown volunteers represent throughout Barwon South West

22/09/2023, 11:00 AM

 VICSES volunteers and FRV personnel response to a call for help at a property in Warrnambool, 8 September 2023 (photo credit: VICSES)

On Friday 8 September, when a violent storm front passed through the southwest of Victoria, 22 Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) Units, including Camperdown SES, were mobilised to assist with the large number of calls for help.

While Camperdown was somewhat spared by the full impacts felt by communities at Warrnambool and Port Fairy, four volunteers from the SES Camperdown Unit came together to assist with the situation and responded to ten Requests for Assistance (RFAs) from impacted community members, including five calls for help with building damage.​

Once the original crew of four, which included Bray Wright, Gary Brian, Taylor Walsh, and Christina Lee, handed over to a new crew from the unit at 10:00am, they left Camperdown for Warrnambool.

“When we arrived at Warrnambool at around 11:00am, there were still 220 calls waiting to be answered,” says SES Camperdown Unit member Bray Wright.

“One of the first jobs we were given was a tree which had landed outside of a front door, shutting in the residents,” says Bray.

​“It was still quite gusty however.” Bray continues, “so we still weren’t getting on roofs to do jobs that weren’t quite serious, Instead, we worked with the Incident Controller that had been appointed, to provide intelligence to assist them with prioritising jobs, once the conditions were safer.”

VICSES Camperdown Unit members are well regarded throughout the region for the support of other units during severe weather events, most notably during the Skipton floods last October.

“We even teamed up with the local Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) crew and spent the afternoon going to building damage callouts,” says Bray. “We tried where possible to use the roof cavity to manage the site of the damage from the inside.”

VICSES volunteers are trained in the Safe Working at Heights System (SWAHS), if they need to tackle building damage, but SWAHS and its rope-system are not the first option volunteers will take when assessing a job. If it’s safer to do it inside the house, or work from a ladder, they will do this instead.

But when they need it, every VICSES truck contains a SWAHS kit which includes slings; an industrial descender; 50m and 100m ropes; working lines; carabiners, and rockers to connect the harness to the working line.

“Being from a small unit like ours, it was great to work with FRV. They are full-time operators, but don’t get to use SWAHS perhaps as much as we do, and they were willing to jump in and to get it done,” says Bray.

To use the system you need a minimum of three people to operate it, along with two suitable anchor points like a sturdy tree, man-made anchor or truck.​

“It was great to see, and they were great to work with,” says Bray.

The Camperdown crew remained in Warrnambool until 6:00pm, attending 14 RFAs in total.

“I’ve been an SES volunteer for 5.5 years now,” says Bray, “we currently have 18 active volunteers, including 7 female volunteers.”

“When I signed up the average age was 55,” Bray continues, “but it has come right back down with the recruitment we’ve done in the last few years. Younger members have a great willingness to learn from our more experienced members, and to find new ways of working.”

Would you like to join Bray and other VICSES members to assist your community in the next big weather event? For your time, you receive nationally-recognised training with the opportunity to pursue specialist learning pathways such as community engagement, Road Crash Rescue, and much more.