Some of the heroes of the recent weather emergency (left to right): Andrew Player, Hannah Grace, Noel McAviney, Ben Fawcett and Bruce Will.
Some of the heroes of the recent weather emergency (left to right): Andrew Player, Hannah Grace, Noel McAviney, Ben Fawcett and Bruce Will.

SES volunteers rise to occasion in wild weather

It was not until the afternoon of Monday May 18 that the final connections for phones and computers were made in the brand new headquarters of the SES in Mullumbimby, following the transfer of equipment and furniture from the cramped facility at the old Council Chambers in Dalley Street.

On Tuesday all the equipment was tested, then on Wednesday, in the words of local SES Controller Noel McAviney, “all hell let loose”.

In the biggest local emergency since the Mother’s Day flood of 1987, the volunteers of the Byron Shire SES worked round the clock in 12-hour shifts over several days to answer 350 calls for assistance from residents right around the shire as torrential rain and huge winds created havoc two weeks ago.

“We knew it was going to be big,” said Noel, “after the Weather Bureau alerted us on the Sunday that something big was going to happen.”

The biggest jobs for the SES volunteers were the rescues of people trapped in their cars in flooded causeways, the medical evacuation of a young child from Wilsons Creek, the evacuation of four families from their homes at Belongil on the advice of structural engineers, and the securing of sheets of iron on the severely damaged roof of a warehouse in Byron Bay.

After that it was days of tree removal.

“Trees were our biggest problem,” said Noel. “There were huge numbers of trees on houses.”

While most of the jobs were carried out over the Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the wild weather, over a week later the clean-up was still going on, albeit with less urgency, and it wasn’t until then that Noel and his team could allow themselves some much-needed time off after the full-on schedule of 12 hours on, 12 hours off during the emergency.

And it was only then that the SES volunteers really had time to appreciate their great new premises in Coolamon Scenic Drive (Tunnel Road to the locals) at the old council depot, where a “crummy old shed” was pulled down to make way for a purpose-built structure that finally allows them to house everything in the one place.

“We’d been looking for a new location for 10 years,” explained Noel, “because not only was the old headquarters so cramped, but we also had to store bits and pieces of our equipment all over the place.

“After looking at lots of different sites, council came up with this, and now we can have everything under the one roof.”

 There is also time to reflect on how the emergency was dealt with.

“I think considering we had only just moved in to our new headquarters, our response was nothing short of brilliant,” said Noel.

A sentiment no doubt heartily endorsed by the many helped by the selfless men and women in orange overalls.

Noel hopes that community members will be inspired by their example and put up their hands to get involved in SES.

Anyone thinking this might sound like something they would like to help with can call Noel on 0418 663 836.

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