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New Moreton Bay Region SES Controller praises volunteers

Posted: 3pm 08 Jun 2022

It has been a baptism of flooding rain since Moreton Bay Region SES Controller Sean Harrop arrived in the region, with volunteers putting in more than 3000 hours in response to thousands of calls for assistance.

Sean first took on the role of Deputy Controller in January for five weeks before the position of Controller became vacant and he decided to put his hand up for the job. He officially stepped in to the role on May 3.

He’s been involved with the State Emergency Service (SES) for nine years, a journey that started with a desire to help community after the 2011 floods, and volunteering as a 19-year-old, and has now become his life’s passion and career.

Sean jumped at the chance to take on a paid role with the Moreton Bay Region Group, after working closely with them as a volunteer while he was in the Brisbane Metro unit.

“I decided the opportunity allowed me to potentially turn it into a paid career, so I thought I would put my hat in the ring and was thankfully successful,” he recalls.

“What led me to want to take on more and more volunteer roles and executive roles is just wanting to make the service better and going out and helping the community and seeing what impact we could have. It’s important work. It’s actually helping people and has meaning.”

The Moreton Bay Region Group has 250 active volunteers plus a further 60 new members on probation.

Busy start to the year

“It’s obviously been a crazy year and it was at the end of last year as well. We’ve answered approximately 3000 requests for assistance since the beginning of the year,” Sean explains.

“That was approximately 2400 with the floods and a further 600 with the rain event we just had and every week we’ve had at least a dozen tasks relating to the rain or missing persons searches, things like that.

|“I want to highlight the amazing work of the volunteers. They’ve given just over 3000 hours (since January) just in relation to operations, which doesn’t include coming to training, extra weekend training that’s required, going to community education events and all the other things we help with.|

“It’s a tremendous sacrifice they’ve made – both them and their families – this year to help people. It’s a huge amount of work. It takes a team to do this work, it’s three to four people going out for sometimes 10-12 hours a day.”

Call for volunteers

The Moreton Bay Region SES Group is looking for volunteers to join its units at Redcliffe, Caboolture and Woodford.

Information sessions will be held for people wanting to find out more. Potential volunteers are asked to email mbrsescaboolture@moretonbay.qld.gov.au to register their interest. Sessions will be held at Redcliffe on June 15, Caboolture on June 25 and Woodford on July 9.

Moreton Bay Region SES Group is looking for 15-20 more volunteers at each unit.

“We’ll teach all the new members everything they need to know. We’re really looking for people who are interested in doing things like land search, storm damage response, height safety and those sorts of roles. The ones that get out and do the work in the community,” Sean explains.

“We really need more members to do that.”

Making a difference

Sean says the sight of an SES volunteer in their orange uniform was a relief to many in a time of crisis.

“A lot of these people, in a storm-damaged context, are probably having one of the worst days if not the worst day of their lives and while sometimes there’s not a huge amount we can do to help it’s (about) just being there and listening to them and making sure they’re OK and just providing that first level of reassurance and support that they’ll be able to get through it and things will be better tomorrow,” he explains.

“With the land search side of things, it’s reuniting families or, when unfortunately we do have negative outcomes, it’s providing closure for families as well.

“The saying is it takes one person to go missing and an army to find them. So, we need as many people as we can for searches, especially when the police are working on vague information and it’s a large area it can take a long time to search it all.”

When asked to recount a special moment between residents and SES volunteers during the recent flooding disaster, Sean takes a moment to think.

“There’s lots of them but one that comes to mind is there’s a street at Bribie Island, where unfortunately with the amount of rain we’ve had, the ground water out there keeps coming up and potentially impacting and flooding some low-lying properties. We’ve worked really closely with those homeowners to help them protect their properties and periodically go and check that they’re OK,” he explains.

“The residents are super thankful … there’s one elderly lady out there who has probably had the worst of it because she lives at the very bottom of the ditch and every time the members go out there, they get tea and biscuits and a hug to thank them for their work.

|“That sort of stuff is important. Sometimes with disasters, when we look at them from a higher level, it’s about statistics and numbers … this is how many people we helped, how many hours we did … but behind all those things are actual people and their homes.”|

Goals for his time in the job

“It’s to build on what my predecessors have left, to bring in more people and train them to help their community,” Sean explains.

“Obviously, the Moreton Bay Region is growing really fast and so we’re looking at increasing the size of the unit to keep up with that demand especially with climate change making disasters worse, we just need more people to build on what we’ve got so we can help more people.

“It’s also about creating a great place for people to volunteer at because for many people like myself, they come to SES because they are directly impacted by disasters. It’s also a way to help them process what happened … that camaraderie and community.”

The 28-year-old concedes some may consider him young for the role of Moreton Bay Region SES controller.

“I recognise that is quite young for a local controller, but obviously Moreton Bay Regional Council and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services feel I do have the skills to do the job and I believe I do too,” he says.

Sean is on a three-year contract and is keen to extend beyond that, if given the opportunity.

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