Volunteer review

The contribution of SA’s emergency services volunteers is priceless.
We certainly couldn’t afford to pay this small army of people who are willing to help their community – at all hours of the day and night and in all weather.
So it is disturbing to hear that a group of Hills State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers was prevented from helping its community earlier this month, simply because members called in the assistance of the CFS.
The Onkaparinga SES unit is unique in SA.
There are other units who share facilities, equipment and members with the CFS but this unit is the only one whose manager is also in charge of the Onkaparinga CFS Group and the vast majority of volunteers are members of both organisations.
This gives them access to information about jobs and the ability (if not the authority) to quickly call in the closest and most appropriate resource.
On Friday, February 14, when the State experienced record rainfall, the Onkaparinga SES was already helping householders in Lobethal who were inundated with stormwater when the unit received a call from a Woodside resident under threat of flooding.
Under the current protocol, the call was classified as a priority two and Onkaparinga should have “stacked” the job and handed the task onto another SES unit such Mt Barker, Sturt or elsewhere in the city.
The problem was everyone was extremely busy and the waiting list was huge.
Onkaparinga in its wisdom thought it would be a good idea to ask the Woodside CFS – which was nearby and had volunteers available – to assess the severity of the situation and to offer what help it could.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the correct protocol and it was taken “off-line” in the call centre, with the unit no longer made available for any priority two jobs.
The end result was residents in the Woodside district were told they would have a “five to six hour” wait for flood help while a local unit stood idle in the shed.
Ask the households who called for help what they thought of the situation and they will tell you that they would have been grateful for any assistance, and they wouldn’t care what type of truck turned up and what color overalls the volunteers were wearing.
Ask the landholder who called up to report a fallen tree across Tiers Road at Lenswood, and then waited for hours for someone to turn up, and he’ll tell you that he ended up calling the local CFS captain at home to get something done.
Systems and protocols exist for a reason but when they fail the people they are supposed to serve, they need to be reviewed.