Lions answer SES call

By David Kavanagh | posted on October 17, 2019

ALBANY SES’ decade-long appeal to the Department of Fire and Emergency Services for better cold climate gear has been partially alleviated following a donation of six alpine kits from the Albany South Coast Lions Club.

The unit received the sets of protective jackets and trousers from the local not-for-profit last Friday, at least 10 years after it first appealed to DFES for similar equipment with no success.

Lions Club President Lindsay Smith said he was initially alerted to the SES group’s struggle attaining cold climate gear after reading about it in a Weekender article in May (‘SES left out in cold’, May 23).

“The Club has no hesitation at all in funding these things because we recognise the obvious need,” he said.

“In some ways, we actually hope it doesn’t get used because if it gets used, there’s a problem somewhere.”

The Weekender story included comments from several senior and former SES members who claimed DFES inaction despite repeated appeals for equipment had resulted in numerous close calls during rescue operations.

SES Volunteer Association President Gordon Hall said at the time that Great Southern SES units had been requesting assistance for “10 or 15 years”.

“Straightaway it can be affecting the rescuer, let alone the person to be rescued,” he said.

“It would not be an efficient or safe rescue if they haven’t got the appropriate cold climate equipment.”

SES Albany member Robert Boyes said the newly contributed gear was much better suited for the region’s climate than older personal protective clothing.

“We are issued with raincoats and the like but they’re not designed for what we do,” he said.

“If you’re standing around in the rain they’re great, but often you might be trudging up Bluff Knoll or the Bibbulmun track carrying a stretcher and you get very hot.

“The beauty of these is they’re not only lightweight but they’re very breathable. You don’t have people getting hypothermic and it’s just safer and more efficient.”

According to Mr Boyes, the Department has made some progress since May.

It appointed its new Deputy Commissioner Craig Waters in July and formed a working group to investigate the need for cold climate gear in the Great Southern around two months ago.

Mr Boyes said the Albany unit accepted the Lions Clubs’ offer despite this because DFES working groups take “at least two or three years to get an outcome”.

“[Deputy Commissioner Waters] recognised this needed to be dealt with and he insisted there be an interim response. He’s a refreshing ray of sunshine,” he said.

“But we could still see the timeline with DFES stretching out to the point where we were going to have another season without the right equipment and so we quite happily got back to the Club.”

DFES Assistant Commissioner Country Operations Paul Ryan told the Weekender that it was providing “an interim supply of cold climate protective clothing until the full clothing review is completed”.

In the meantime, the Albany unit will be able to use the six alpine kits in conjunction with the items supplied by DFES to equip 12 volunteers.

“That’s a much better position than we were in last week,” Mr Boyes said.