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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Wear Orange Wednesday celebrates SES volunteers

On a cold, grey day, the shores of Lake Burley Griffin were a vivid splash of colour: orange mohawks, orange ribbons, orange glasses, orange suits, orange turbans, orange headbands, orange scarves, and even a dachshund in an orange jacket.

ACT State Emergency Service volunteers were celebrating Wear Orange Wednesday, a day to thank the SES for their dedicated service both in the ACT and across Australia.

“We recognise the efforts they put into help keep us safe during difficult times,” said Mick Gentleman, ACT Minister for Police and Emergency Services. “And we have had some incredibly difficult times over the last couple of years.”

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The ACT SES worked with Fire & Rescue and the Rural Fire Service during the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires, ACT SES chief officer Anthony Draheim said. They responded to La Niña’s storms and floods. They dealt with the worst hailstorm in the ACT’s history in January 2020. They helped the health department carry out compliance checks during the pandemic. And they assisted the police with search and recovery operations.

Mr Draheim said SES members worked in extreme situations. “They’re usually wet; they’re usually tired; usually on top of someone’s roof or in flood conditions. We try to kit them out with the best gear possible, so they are comfortable, but they are putting themselves at risk and danger to protect you and the community.”

In his 11 years with the Majura SES unit, Joel Cowey has spent many hours fixing leaking roofs after storms, chain sawing trees, or looking for missing people. He once spent 10 hours cutting up a eucalyptus that had fallen on a house; the tree was “so big that it actually looked taller lying down than it did standing up, just enormous”.

SES volunteer Joel Cowey. Photos: Kerrie Brewer.

Recently, much of Mr Cowey’s work has involved searching for young children who wandered away from home, or elderly people who stray from nursing homes. He remembered spending most of the day in the Brindabellas, “driving up and down some very, very steep roads”, looking for a young man who had got lost. Fortunately, the man was found safe and well. “It turned out that he wasn’t actually as far away as he thought he was; he ended up only being about 2km from where we were based.”

The ACT SES has 390 members. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, Mr Draheim said there had been an upturn in volunteer numbers. More than 200 people applied to join the SES this year, but there were only places for 40. He asked many of these people to apply again next year. While the newest recruits joined in May, other volunteers have been with the SES for half a century.

Mr Cowey would recommend the SES to anyone who wanted to help the community and improve themselves. He joined 11 years ago; his teenage daughter wanted to volunteer with the SES for her community service, but needed an adult to accompany her.

“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “You learn a lot of new skills, and you go out and do interesting things – helping people, climbing on roofs… There’s so much to do that’s really exciting. And if you’re an office worker, it’s a good excuse to get out of the office and into the fresh air!”

You can say thanks and get involved by sharing videos or photos of thanks to ACTESA social channels or use the hashtag #thankyouSES.

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