SES: State Emergency Services in Australia

Like most countries, we have a government run police, fire and ambulance service. I wonder though, how many other countries have anything like our SES…

State Emergency Services (SES)

All countries have emergencies, and Australia is no different. In these emergencies, we do rely on the police, fire and ambulance services to look after us. In extreme emergencies the Australian Government can also call in the Army as they have now done with the destroyed town of Bundaberg.

In addition to all of this support though, we also have the SES. Incredibly, these orange jacketed heroes are all volunteers, they don’t get paid a red cent for the amazing and often extremely brave work that they do.

I was reminded of their bravery the other night whilst watching the news when I saw one of their men saving a teenager in what is called a swiftwater rescue. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

According to Wikipedia, country wide Australia has 43,000 SES volunteers to cover all states and territories. Then each state and territory is broken down into regions, units, and then groups or teams.

The SES can support the police and the fire brigade in response to storm, tornado, cyclone and flooding damage as well as assisting with road crash rescues and other emergencies.

As an SES volunteer, you might be asked to help with air rescue, sea rescue, swiftwater rescue, a land or a marine search, for example.

SES volunteers could even be asked to assist police in searching for a missing person. Or be asked to provide traffic control, lighting and communication support at a major accident or during a bushfire.

The SES do, of course, operate 24/7 and are often seen doing their work after a major event like the storms, tornadoes and flooding we have had over the last week.

Most importantly, the volunteers of the SES save lives.

Swiftwater rescue

Australia is full of creeks, rivers lakes and billabongs. For much of the year, many of these water systems can be almost dry. Lots of our roads pass over many of these dry creeks and waterways, but problems can arise after huge downpours the like of which we have just seen.

Any of you who read my post Queensland Floods 2013: A Very Wet Bank Holiday Weekend will have seen that I came across these situations when trying to reach some pets I needed to feed in a house close to where I live.

One end of the road was blocked off by the overflowing Pullen Pullen Creek, the other end by Farmers Creek, and on the way home a third road was blocked off by an overflowing but much smaller brook. I can assure you that elsewhere around the state there would have been hundreds and hundreds, probably even thousands of roads cut off by fast flowing water.

The problem is, people want to get home or to wherever it is they want to get to, and they take a risk and try to drive through.

This is definitely NOT a good idea.

You might feel pretty safe in your 4×4; don’t be so sure. You might think it’s not that deep; it doesn’t need to be. You might even think it’s not that far, about 15 or 20 feet and you’ll be across it; it might be worth remembering at this point that you’re more likely be travelling along it rather than across it.

Too many people have died trying to cross these fast flowing waters, it’s just not worth the risk.

I never knew until I saw this video that it only takes around 30 cm, that’s about 1 foot, of fast moving water to lift a vehicle. This guy’s lorry got lifted, although he was trying to get across much deeper waters…

And now let’s take a look at that swiftwater rescue I mentioned earlier. This is where, if you’ll excuse my terminology, the waters get muddied. I have read several reports about this incident, and I know for sure that 5 Queensland Fire and Rescue crews, including swift water technicians, were sent to the scene, but in all likelihood they were also backed up by a team from the SES.

Was the guy who actually rescued the boy an SES volunteer, or was he part of the fire services swiftwater rescue team?

ABC News most definitely state that the rescuer was a volunteer from the SES. Whoever rescued this boy, this is bravery of the highest order…

One day you might need the SES, if you want to donate, click here to send money to Queensland SES. If you would prefer to donate to a different state or territory SES, please search Google to find the official government website for the SES you want to support.

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • warwick April 20, 2013, 5:49 pm |

    Hey Bob, and other contributors,
    I’d like your views.
    The Newman Government has chosen to conceal (for something like 30 years), the results of its expensive enquiry into the cause, or the responsibility, for the recent flooding through the city and suburbs of Brisbane.
    As a matter of general principle, I think governments should be very open with information that is gained at public expense: the public has a right to know, unless the matter is one of national security or the maintenance of the identity of underground informers.
    And I would think that the people whose homes were flooded have an indisputable right to know. Even if the release of this information were to expose the government to claims of billions of dollars because they mismanaged the dams; still, they should grin and bear it.
    What do the Queensland contributors think?

    • BobinOz April 20, 2013, 10:02 pm |

      I have written a post about that, it’s called Why Did Brisbane Flood?

      It’s difficult to know what went wrong for sure, I run through all the possibilities in that post, but between you and I my gut feeling is that the management of the dam levels could have been handled much better than it was.

      If they got that wrong though, why would Newman want to cover it up? After all, he wasn’t in charge at the time nor was his party, if it was stuffed up then it was all down to Labour and Anna Bligh. So you could argue it would be in his interest to reveal it, but then I suspect it isn’t because it would probably be down to the current state government, his, to foot the bill to sort out all the people whose homes suffered flood damage when they probably shouldn’t have done so.

      All that said, quite a bit of information was released during the investigation, I am not personally aware of exactly what is being concealed or for how long.



  • Gordon February 2, 2013, 11:07 pm |

    Without taking anything away from the S.E.S guys and girls , I would also give mention to Rural Firies – ( QLD )

    Not just in this state either but the rural firies in all states of Oz .

    Kudos to all volunteers .

    • BobinOz February 4, 2013, 2:22 pm |

      Hear hear! The firies do a great job too, for sure.

  • Warwick Wakefield February 2, 2013, 5:26 pm |

    Hey Bob,

    I agree with you. The SES is a wonderful outfit. We have this urge to help our fellows _ and here’s an outfit that organizes it. No questions asked. What I mean is that you don’t have to belong to any religion or have any other “qualification.” And it doesn’t big note itself; just does the job. It makes you proud to belong to the human race. We may get a lot of things wrong, but isn’t humanity wonderful?


    • BobinOz February 4, 2013, 2:20 pm |

      Yes, humanity is wonderful and the SES certainly don’t big note themselves at all. I think I’d lived here at least a couple of years before I realised they were volunteers! Wonderful people doing wonderful things.



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