“Train them and retain them" VICSES Gisborne Unit grows

“Train them and retain them" VICSES Gisborne Unit grows

20/07/2023, 1:00 PM

VICSES Gisborne Unit rescue vehicle (photo credit: VICSES)

Earlier this month, Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) Gisborne Unit welcomed their brand new Unit Controller (UC) Ross Evans, to his new post.

Ross succeeds Mike Bagnall who led the unit for nearly six years, during which time the membership doubled.

At the beginning of his tenure, Mike had a volunteer crew of 35 volunteers. Today, and nearly seven years on, the headcount for the unit sits at 70, with a further 20 waiting to join.

Former Unit Controller Mike Bagnall at the induction ceremony (photo credit: VICSES)

Mike’s successful approach to recruitment and retention had been informed by the wide range of reasons that people join the service.

New volunteer emergency responders may be enticed by the prospect of finding a new social circle, gaining nationally accredited skills, or even a renewed sense of their own identity.

For Mike, having recently moved to Gisborne from the city, he wanted an identity outside of his family. Once a member of VICSES, he gained skills in sector and divisional command, ran a flood response across a large area, and had the chance to lead an emergency service, which had been a major life goal.

As unit leader, Mike felt it was vital for new members to feel like there was a place for them, and that they were needed. This open culture had long been a feature of the unit, which Mike highlighted during recruitment campaigns.

During Mike’s tenure, the unit used its social media presence to showcase the training and skills it could provide to potential new members, and publicly celebrate their diverse ages and backgrounds. In a recent intake, the unit welcomed members aged 17 to 75 years old. Though they wear the same uniform on training night, they each offer the unit an opportunity to harness their unique skills.

Having completed his term as Controller on 30 June 2023, Mike’s gift of an expanded volunteer workforce is both a challenge and opportunity for the unit leadership in the future.

To support new members, the senior ranks of VICSES Gisborne Unit contain a wealth of knowledge, with 135 years of diligent service given by just eight currently serving members. Notably, Ross Sapwell - a veteran of the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983 - has been a VICSES volunteer for forty years.

New VICSES Gisborne Unit, Controller, Ross Evans being inducted by Senior Assistant Chief Officer, Sharon Unthank, and Chief Officer, Operations, Tim Wiebusch (photo credit: VICSES)

New UC Ross Evans is taking a long-term view of the needs of the area, and of the volunteers. Planning, fundraising, and lobbying for a new building to accommodate a larger and growing workforce, to support an even larger number of volunteer emergency responders to respond to an increased need in the community for their services.

In the short-term, Ross plans to add a fifth vehicle to the unit’s fleet, building on the unit’s capability to respond to large-scale emergencies throughout the Macedon Ranges.

Ross had previously been responsible for Public Relations and Fundraising at the Gisborne Unit, and his appointment draws from the depth of that leadership experience at served within the unit.

The new Unit Controller will also set up a “unit within a unit" for its youth membership. This unit would be a learning environment for that younger cohort, to nurture future leaders at the unit and beyond.

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In the last financial year, VICSES Gisborne Unit volunteers received 259 Requests for Assistance (RFAs) from residents and business throughout the Macedon Ranges including Gisborne (68), Mount Macedon (49), and Riddells Creek (27). RFAs included 110 trees down over roads and properties, 66 flood-related incidents, and 18 Road Crash Rescue (RCR) incidents. Our VICSES Gisborne Unit volunteers also attended 13 RFAs to assist other agencies, including Victoria Police.

VICSES Gisborne Unit’s response area contains the Campaspe and Coliban Rivers, as well as Deep, Riddells, Bolinda, Jacksons and Five Mile Creeks, which originate in the ranges and flow southeast to the flat, lower parts.

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

“Thank you to Michael Bagnall for almost six years of dedicated commitment to leading your unit, and your support to other units, including during major emergencies across the state. Mike is a fine example of how well our volunteers embody the role, and lead by the values of our organisation.” 

“Congratulations to Ross Evans for stepping up into the role. It’s great to see succession in action, and I know you have a strong team behind you to continue to take the Unit forward.”

Quote attributable to VICSES Gisborne Unit, Controller, Ross Evans:

With our current staffing levels, we can fulfil three incident based shifts per day without requiring the support or referral of other units and thats Mikes legacy.”

The Macedon Ranges have been hit quite hard with the storms so we see the need in the community. We’ve got the resources; we just need the capability, and the infrastructure.”

In terms of the unit facilities, the physical space is the same size as we were five years ago. The building is owned by council, so were limited in what we can do. As we share the site between the Country Fire Authority and Victoria Police, we need to look at building up, or moving out, to accommodate our new members. Thats our biggest challenge.”

Quote attributable to former VICSES Gisborne Unit, Controller, Mike Bagnall:

Volunteers join the service because they have a driver: something they want to get out of it.”

“Ideally, what you get out of joining an emergency service is more than the sum of your efforts.”

Quote attributable to VICSES Gisborne Unit, Volunteer, Ross Sapwell:

“The four-wheel drive and trailer were the whole rescue suite when I started [in 1983]. We didn’t have a permanent site, so we met in a small room off the Shire offices, or the old courthouse. When we got a new tin shed we thought that was pretty flash, until we got a whole new facility in the early 1990s.”

“One of the things I think we try to do is that the newbies get in and actually do the job. We’re quite happy to stand back and let them have a go.”