No job too tough for wonderful Wyong SES team
WYONG SES volunteer John Buchtmann had never in his 42 years of emergency work seen such devastation as he witnessed this month at Lismore, in the Northern Rivers.
John was part of a team of five and a flood rescue technician deployed from Wyong to help in the North Coast floods following Cyclone Debbie.
The team drove for nine hours from 4.30pm on Wednesday, March 29 to get to Tweed Heads by 1.30am the following day.
By 7.30am they were working, filling almost 1000 bags with sand and gravel for distribution to fearful residents.
Over the coming days they cut down trees which had fallen on cars and houses, and checked on people stranded by the floods.
They helped in the evacuation of Chinderah, including three elderly people struggling through the flood waters, who they had to wade in, up to their own chests - thankfully covered by life jackets - and help to safe ground.
They helped police close the highway at Chinderah to traffic and, when they were needed for a job on the other side, organised with police and a truckie for a semi-trailer to go ahead of them, pushing the water clear so they could follow safely in its wake.
On Saturday night, all the emergency service workers (SES, VRA and NSW Fire and Rescue) were given a standing ovation at a dinner organised by the local SES.
"Everyone in the club stood up and cheered," John said.
"It means so much. There's so much pride in doing the job to the best of your ability and people appreciating that."
The next day they were deployed to Lismore.
"It was the most devastating thing I've ever seen. It was indescribable," John said of that city's CBD.
Every shop, he said, had thrown everything out into the street.
Once cleared, they went in and hosed down all the mud and muck, ready to start again.
"But I have to say, the camaraderie of the people pulling together and helping each other was wonderful to see."
He tells of one elderly lady who walked up to the Wyong truck and offered the SES men cupcakes.
She was delivering them to all the workers. Another man they helped insisted on shaking each and every man's hand.
"That sort of thing can be very humbling," John said.
He said the northern NSW SES had been impressed with how well the team - a mix of younger and older members - worked together.
"They said there's not a job you people can't do or won't do, and they were right," John said.
At 71, and a member of both the Volunteer Rescue Association and SES, John said he enjoyed being able to use his God-given talents with other people to help others in time of need.
Once upon a time, when he was just eight, that person in need was him, when he almost lost his arm, trapped in the cogs of a cement mixer.
He has since repaid that debt in kind many times over.
Always room for more workers
Ironically, while the team was in the Northern Rivers, Wyong itself experienced a little of Debbie's wrath, with 100 SES call-outs.
Local controller Kirstin Ridgley said while she currently had close to 100 members - including a few over 70 years old - there was always room for more. Training is 2.5 hours each week.
"We have a really good mix of ages, but having older members is great," she said.
"A lot are retired, so they can give more time - particularly when other people aren't available during the day.
"They also have old-school skills and are willing to get out there in the mud and the wet. They aren't the cotton-wool generation."
Not everyone has to be willing to battle through flood waters or climb on rooftops, with paperwork, manning the radio, sandbags to be filled and more jobs available.
Kirstin said the Wyong group did not attend road crashes or vertical rescues but carried out repairs and flood rescues and ensured people remained safe in emergency situations.
"For a lot of older people, they are just happy to get that knock on the door, to know someone's there," Kirstin said.
To find out more about volunteering go to https://www.ses.nsw.gov.au/volunteer/ and don't forget WOW (Wear Orange Wednesday) Day on May 10 and say thanks to your local volunteers.