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Solidarity at the fire front

Six PSA members working for our State Emergency Service in Incident Management and Support roles were presented with the NSW Premier’s Bushfire Emergency Citation at SES State Headquarters on Tuesday 20 October 2020.

The citations were presented as recognition for their contribution to the unprecedented 2019/20 bushfire crisis, which NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian described in her letter to the members as “undoubtedly the worst natural disaster in the living memory of our State”.

“Your selflessness, courage and resilience caused all of us to pause and think about the true meaning of family and community … you should be incredibly proud of the part you played protecting your community when it needed you most. Your compassion, courage and generosity have earned you a special place in the history of our State,” the Premier’s letter stated.

Incident Control personnel provide incident management at major emergencies. This work includes providing logistical, planning, operational and other support services to firefighters and other emergency services personnel working on the front lines. Most of their work takes place in South Australia but at times of crisis they can deployed anywhere in the country, and sometimes overseas.

SES Regional Operations Coordinator and PSA Worksite Representative Robert Charlton was deployed to work as a Logistics Officer at Casino in the state’s north. His role was primarily to organise catering, accommodation and transport requirements for the NSW firefighters.

It was a terrible situation but an amazing opportunity to support our sister emergency services personnel interstate.

“Emergency services is all about supporting people and communities. When we heard there was a need to support people in NSW we went there to help out.”

Robert said while the situation was stressful at times, SES staff are well prepared for these types of situations. “This is something we are trained for and we are used to. There are a lot of unknowns – we didn’t know where we would be deployed to, and that can change quickly depending on the fire activity. While we weren’t working extremely close to the fire front, there was plenty of ash falling around us and we could smell the smoke. It was an intense time.”

Corey Frazer was deployed to NSW three times during the bushfire crisis and said it was a good feeling to be able to work with and support the NSW communities. “We also received great support from our agency here in SA, and also from the PSA,” he added.

Derren Halleday was in NSW as a deployment manager. “I looked after all the interstate and overseas resources that were coming in to support NSW services and acted as a liaison between those personnel and the NSW agencies. There was significant support from New Zealand, the United States and Canada, who all had resources in NSW.”

Milo Kuga, who is the only volunteer in the group, was released from his role at the PSA to work in the NSW northern tablelands as a Planning Officer, Resource Officer and a Situation Officer assisting in a fire control centre at Glen Innes.

“This was an incredible opportunity to work alongside NSW PSA members from NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, the NSW Rural Fire Service and also the Roads and Maritime Service, to assist them in responding to so many big fires.”

Andrea Geytenbeek was deployed to NSW twice as a Logistics Officer, also to Casino in the Northern Rivers area. “It was a terrible situation but an amazing opportunity to support our sister emergency services personnel interstate. Many of the staff we were working with had come to South Australia to assist us with the Pinery and Sampson Flat bushfires, so it was really nice to be able to return that favour,” she said.

Ruth Tovo worked in the Northern Rivers as a Planning Officer and said it was the biggest incident she’s been involved with. “I’ve done this kind of work before on a smaller scale but while very challenging, this is what we do in emergency services. I think we played an important role in relieving staff who had been working without a break since early September. We were there in December so the workers were incredibly fatigued, but they kept showing up. It was great to provide those staff with some much needed respite.”

The PSA leadership congratulates our members for the recognition they’ve received as a result of their hard work and dedication to communities in NSW and for their strong commitment to public service.