Rochester SES station revamped

SES rescue: Peter Werner started as the Rochester SES controller in July last year, while being forced to navigate COVID-19 conditions along with the rest of the community. Photo by Adair Winder

Renovations have been completed at the Rochester SES station, but what are some of the other challenges that Rochester SES members have been navigating through during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Rochester SES station was upgraded in December and now includes a larger training area, a refurbished administrative area and completely new furnishings.

Peter Werner started as new controller at the SES station in Rochester in July 2021. Mr Werner is responsible for managing volunteers, managing equipment and dealing with any issues that occur at the front line.

“We have a new office, new kitchen, new security system and some other minor improvements,” he said.

The renovations took close to six months to complete, and staff were unable to use the building during that time.

“The project went over time, over budget and we had water coming through the roof,” Mr Werner said.

He said on top of renovation issues it had been “pretty challenging” navigating the pandemic, and trying to achieve the community engagement the unit would normally obtain through community-based events had been a constant challenge.

State and regional SES training days were frequently cancelled, and Driver Reviver is one of the main events that had not been able to go ahead.

Driver Reviver involves SES volunteers and Lions Club members setting up on the side of the road, on peak traffic days, to offer respite to motorists by providing free tea, coffee and snacks. The program aims to address fatigue-related driving incidents by encouraging drivers to remember to stop and take a break.

Finding volunteers has been another obstacle for the unit.

Former SES Rochester controller Judith Gledhill said the group was always looking for more volunteers, but it was difficult to find them.

Mr Werner agreed that the SES unit’s biggest challenge was recruitment, but said it was something that was true “across all volunteer sectors”.

Rochester SES requires volunteers who are available to be present at its weekly training sessions and who have the availability to attend call-outs.

The unit is seeking people who can commit to about 60 per cent of training sessions and 60 per cent of call-outs.

Mr Werner said the amount of call-outs varied from week to week, but on average the unit attended between six and 18 road crash incidents a year.

He said incidents involving trees that had fallen onto roads or property were the most common call-outs received by the unit.

Mr Werner said there was a lack of public knowledge about what the SES actually did.

“I want to help educate the community about the situations where we can provide community support,” he said.

He remains optimistic that the upgrades to the interior of the station will help to draw in volunteers and hopes that in future the unit may also be able to modernise the exterior of the building.

“That will make us more noticeable to the community,” Mr Werner said.

Rochester SES has training sessions every Wednesday at 7pm, where it covers topics such as storm damage training (with a strong focus on what to do in the event of a tree falling), road crash rescue, rooftop safety, roof repairs and urban rescue such as building collapses.