Motions: International Day for Disaster Reduction

Wednesday October 17, 2018

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (12:04): I rise to support the motion:

That this house—

(a) recognises that Saturday 13 October is International Day for Disaster Reduction;

(b) expresses its appreciation to all emergency services workers, professional and volunteer, who work so hard to protect our community throughout our state; and

(c) calls on the state government to work with our emergency services to ensure that they are adequately resourced to prevent and respond to natural disasters.

All South Australians should take a moment to pause and reflect on the hard work and commitment provided by our emergency services workers. These workers across the Country Fire Service, Metropolitan Fire Service, SAPOL, SA Ambulance Service and State Emergency Service selflessly give their time to protect and help others. When we need them, they are always there, just a phone call away.

I think one of the most important days when we learned the value of our emergency services was on 16 February 1983, which was Ash Wednesday. On this day, more than 2,500 homes were destroyed, hundreds of thousands of animals were lost and 28 South Australians lost their lives, including volunteer firefighters Andrew Lemke from Lucindale, Peter Matthies from Summertown and Brian Nosworthy from Callendale. This tragedy brings home the reality of working in our emergency services and the dangers they face.

On a personal note, the dad of one of my very good friends in primary school was severely burnt in the Ash Wednesday fires and only survived by having dead animal carcasses on top of him as the fire front passed through. I grew up around Lambert Verhoven, who had compression bandages and the effects of very severe burns for a fair part of his life and my adolescence.

While we are at dinner or enjoying family celebrations, our emergency services personnel can be out attending car accidents, house fires, trees across roads and a whole range of other situations. When bushfires threaten lives and properties, we look to our emergency services for safety. Often, they conduct training at their own expense and on their own time to keep up to date with the skills necessary to do the job. For volunteers, there is no financial reward, just the knowledge that they are contributing and making a difference to their community.

Many of the emergency services workers and volunteers in my electorate of Mount Gambier have been in the job for decades, a testament to the dedication of regional communities. Simon Poel is the Mount Gambier and Districts State Emergency Services unit manager and has been a volunteer with the service for 34 years. He joined the service at the age of 17, the week after his dad, Tom. Simon says that it is the satisfaction of helping the community as to why he enjoys the job. He jokes that some weekends he does not even see his wife as he is always out somewhere with his team of 25 volunteers.

Earlier this year, Simon was out with the SES team when a young man crashed his ute through the fence surrounding the Blue Lake and narrowly escaped with his life. At that incident, which happened at 11 o'clock on a Friday night, Simon set up a forward command post, sent abseilers down the cliff face and liaised with other emergency services at the scene. It is not all serious jobs though. Simon donates his time to local fundraising events and even directs traffic and floats at the Mount Gambier Christmas Pageant. Every few months, he heads to training courses that last all weekend. He jokes that if he had been paid for all the time he has devoted to the SES, they would never be able to afford it.

I tell Simon's story to illustrate how much regional communities rely on the good people who choose to give their time to our emergency services. Next year, he and his father, Tom, will be awarded long service medals. Simon and Tom epitomise the community spirit that makes South Australia such a great place to live and work. I take this opportunity to commend every South Australian who has taken the time to contribute to our emergency services.