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Volunteers learn to read water and rescue flood victims

KAYAK RESCUE: Trainer Phil Benfield passes on some tips on handling a kayak to rescue volunteers from police, SES, ambulance, helicopter and road accident crews.
KAYAK RESCUE: Trainer Phil Benfield passes on some tips on handling a kayak to rescue volunteers from police, SES, ambulance, helicopter and road accident crews.

THERE'S a flood, a raging river hurtling past, and a car has been washed into its flow. The elderly driver has miraculously got out of the car and is sitting, precariously, on its roof.

Seasoned SES workers, new trainees, Police Rescue, ambulance and helicopter personnel were spellbound in Lismore on Monday night at the SES headquarters on Brunswick Street, as professional swift water rescue trainer Phil Benfield went through the scenario and described how the man could safely be rescued without endangering the lives of his rescuers.

It was a fascinating presentation, laying out in clear terms how any rescue team needs to have a clear chain of command, a mix of highly-trained and less experienced personnel assigned appropriately to situations they're equipped to manage, and the right equipment properly prepared and ready to deploy.

And anyone can become an SES volunteer.

According to SES media officer Narelle Johnson people often come along and sign up after a flood event in Lismore.

"Volunteers get training in rescues, storm water, radio communications and first aid," Narelle said.

"Then they can choose to train in flood boats, swift water rescue, chainsaw operations, road crash rescue as well as land searches (for missing people), maps, and navigation."

The training happens at the Brunswick Street HQ of the Lismore City SES, the arm of the organisation that deals specifically with Lismore situations.

The operations centre of the regional Richmond-Tweed SES at Goonellabah co-ordinates the district's response to floods and storms that affect the whole area. Its volunteers record data such as rainfall, rates of river rise and fall, and water over roads that inform the predictions for the magnitude of flood events. The SES works in teams with a mix of skills, and in co-ordination with other rescue services.

Phil Benfield said his objective was to encourage untrained volunteers to gain awareness in swift water rescue - the basic training; then move on to "operations" and rise through the ranks to become "technicians".

"I want to teach you to read water like you would read a map," Phil said.

"In the past 200 years, there have been 2300 deaths from floods, mostly in NSW and Queensland, mostly men, and 48% motor vehicle related.

"Of those, 26% were down to high-risk behaviour in flood waters. As rescue volunteers, you need to have training, management skills and teamwork."

Anyone wanting to join the current training is welcome to go to the SES headquarters on Brunswick Street (the Bangalow Road out of Lismore, on the right) on Monday evenings. The sessions start at 6pm.


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