For the first time this week I’m getting a chance to update you. It’s been intense.
Tuesday morning the rain had largely cleared through, although various river flood warnings were still coming in. The rain that had fallen elsewhere in the catchments was starting to find its way down to our parts of the Goulburn and Broken Rivers and Seven Creeks. I spent the morning circulating warnings from the Bureau of Meteorology and establishing what sorts of resources the City Council could throw our way if we needed them.
At midday I got a call from the Incident Control Centre. A house which we’d looked at yesterday in a low lying area was at risk of being flooded if the river rose to a predicted level. The house was to be sandbagged on all sides. We’d be provided with as much sand and sandbags as we needed. A bag-loading machine would be towed down from the Echuca SES Unit, and a work team would be sent out from Dhurringile Prison. The ICC had already arranged for volunteers to come and lend a hand from the Northwest Mooroopna and Shepparton fire brigades and a local search and rescue unit. Oh, and by the way: I was to be the Incident Controller!
What other resources would I need? I thought quickly and asked if volunteers could be sought from the nearest SES Units. Volunteers ultimately came from the Rushworth and Numurkah units.
Being made the Incident Controller meant that I was in charge of the whole operation: There were about forty people, the sandbagging machine, lots of shovels and manual sandbag fillers and a front end loader from the Council (for loading sand into the machine). Units brought lighting equipment as we’d be working into the evening, and I was able to request additional truckloads of sand as we needed them. I found myself needing to decide where people parked, how the bags were to be filed, what pattern they’d be laid in, how they’d get from the filling area to the wall, and all the other minutiae of the operation. I’d never had to run a job on that scale before. In honesty, I was getting a bit overwhelmed and I was immensely grateful when an older and very experienced member of the Rushworth SES Unit offered to shadow me – which meant that he took notes for me and also helped me to set priorities, appoint managers for different parts of the operations and generally keep it on track.
The teams from the various units worked well together, especially once the job found its rhythm. I can’t speak highly enough of the prison inmates who were there: they worked flat out for the whole time and only stopped for their meal break at 1830. Dhurringile is a minimum security prison, so most of them were close to the end of their sentence. I don’t know what they were in for (save that one of them was apparently getting to the end of a stretch for murder), but they certainly knew how to work.
Running the job was intense, but I’m proud to say that the job got done efficiently and successfully. There were no disasters, no downtime for want of supply, and towards the end I was finding I was settling into my own role as incident controller. A few years ago I could never have done that. I’m proud of what I did.
It took a couple of hours after the wall was finished to get the equipment packed up and returned to the correct depots and the crews on their way home. It took me a bit longer to get home too as rising waters had cut a number of roads. I walked in the door about 2230.
On Wednesday morning the unit was tasked with making contact with the homeless people who live in the bush reserve along the Goulburn River between Shepparton and Mooroopna. The area is low lying, and they mainly live in tents. This means they’re at risk of becoming isolated or worse if the river overtops.
We took our transport and support vehicles (a Nissan Patrol and Navara), as they’re built for going offroad. We visited all of the camps we could locate and spoke to everyone who could be found. Most of them had been watching the rising waters and had already made plans to move to higher ground. Perhaps paradoxically, they were more self-reliant than most people are. They assumed that help was unlikely to be coming for them.
We’d planned to do some more community education about flood risk in the afternoon (by putting up an information stall at a shopping centre). We were just sitting down to lunch before starting that job when all our pagers went off for a single vehicle road accident with a person trapped. Did we move fast? Yeah we moved fast with lights and sirens that whole way.
I don’t think I should tell details of the operation itself – the SES discourages us from sharing those sorts of things. I can tell you, though, that it was the most difficult extrication any of us had been involved in. There was a tree literally though the cabin of the vehicle, and the front driver’s side wheel was where the centre console should have been. The passenger side of the car was into the table drain, so for most of the job we were knee deep in muddy water. This was the scene after the extrication was completed -
It took a full hour to complete the extrication. Every one of us was exhausted afterwards and we spent a couple of hours at the shed afterwards cleaning the gear and debriefing (we also ordered pizza). I think we all just needed to process a bit. Usually after a road rescue you feel kind of pumped up; this time I think we all felt the opposite.
No callouts on Thursday, which was frankly a relief. However, I had a large backlog of administrative things for SES to do and a certain amount of organising to do. I still felt the strain from the previous day’s accident. It was on my mind especially as the higher-ups had asked us to conduct a post-action review, so that any learnings could be drawn from the difficult job. This took up the unit’s training night, and on the plus side we did get some useful information about how our systems are working well and where they can be improved.
I’ve kept it low-key today, filing incident reports from the last few days and tackling some of my leftover emails. I’m feeling like myself again (aside from being tired), and I’m proud of the work the Unit has done this week.
On to the next set of challenges!