18 May 2022

When the rest of us knock off, volunteers clock on, so take time out to say 'thanks'

| Claire Fenwicke
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Emergency services volunteers gathered at Lake Burley Griffin for Wear Orange Wednesday. Photo: ACT ESA Media.

Emergency services volunteers gathered at Lake Burley Griffin for Wear Orange Wednesday. Photo: ACT ESA Media.

Every day Alex von Brandenstein wakes up, he knows he has more than his day job to occupy his time.

“It’s always exciting. Every day is different – it gives an action-packed aspect you don’t always get in your day-to-day life,” he said.

What’s so exciting? Alex is a volunteer.

“It gives that extra dimension, extra colour to your life.”

Alex helps out as part of MAPS, the ACT Emergency Services Agency’s Mapping and Planning Support group. During major incidents, Alex draws on his geography degree to create specific maps to aid the Incident Controller in assigning resources and people across Canberra.

“I gather together field base maps, satellite images, community information, then I marinate them all together and produce a map specifically tailored to the situation,” he said.

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Alex is one of hundreds of Canberrans being recognised this Wear Orange Wednesday for his volunteer efforts, which are integral to keeping our emergency services running smoothly.

“If we didn’t have volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to do anything,” ACT Rural Fire Service chief officer Rohan Scott said.

“It’s not just emergency services. It’s also schools and sporting groups. Those key community functions rely on volunteers.”

Wear Orange Wednesday falls in the middle of National Volunteer Week, which Mr Scott said was an important chance to recognise all those in our community who give up their spare time to help others.

“I also want to acknowledge the families and support networks behind our volunteers. They’re essentially volunteers as well,” he said.

ACT emergency services volunteers

ACT emergency services volunteers had the chance to ride around the lake on e-scooters as part of Wear Orange Wednesday. Photo: ACT ESA Media.

Pat Coffey is another Canberra local who gives his time to the community, pulling on an orange vest as the commander of Gungahlin’s SES unit.

“It’s just a matter of helping the community, plus you get to get away from your desk,” he said.

He’s been part of the organisation for eight years and said while the SES was involved with various operations, missing person cases were the ones that stuck with him.

“We don’t always get a good outcome, but being part of those searches and helping families get closure … you get to help people. It’s very satisfying,” he said.

“You’re not only helping the community, you’re creating a community as well. There are a lot of people in the SES I would never have met otherwise. They’re now my closest friends.”

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There are between 400 and 450 emergency services volunteers in Canberra helping during storms and floods, supporting police and fire and rescue. But they have also been deployed in non-traditional areas such as logistical support for the ACT’s COVID-19 response, call takers for police and supporting the RFS in airfield operations.

ACT ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said she couldn’t overstate how lucky the Territory was to have such people ready to help.

“They are selfless. They go above their jobs and their families. After all that, they then go do something for someone they don’t even know,” she said.

“When everyone else is asleep, they’re the ones who are up.

“Today really is a chance to say an authentic ‘thank you’ to all of them.”

ACT ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan (centre) wanted to thank all of Canberra's volunteers and their families. Photo: ACT ESA Media.

ACT ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan (centre) wanted to thank Canberra’s volunteers and their families. Photo: ACT ESA Media.

Canberrans with a spare half hour, two days or more are encouraged to put their hands up and volunteer, no matter the capacity.

Alex said he’s volunteered for the past 20 years and it’s given him a sense of identity and purpose he wouldn’t trade.

“I’ll be encouraging my kids to do the same. Maybe I’ll find them in orange 20 years from now,” he said.

To get involved with the ACT ESA, visit the ACT State Emergency Service.

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