State’s busiest SES volunteers

Lilydale SES Unit Controller Shaun Caulfield with son Sam, a fourth-generation SES volunteer.

By Taylah Eastwell

At Lilydale SES’s Monday training nights, the volunteers in their orange overalls just kept piling in.

But with the Lilydale unit currently listed as the busiest VICSES unit in the state, the unit needs as many hands on deck as possible – having attended 1,299 calls for assistance in the last 12 months.

Lilydale SES Unit Controller Shaun Caulfield said he was surprised to learn his unit held the top spot.

“When we look back, we thought geez, didn’t think we’d done that many jobs. It was a bit of a surprise, but we knew we were busy. Last year was busy for us. We had three separate storm damage events where we had 200 jobs each one. That accounts for 600 jobs in just three singular events,” he said.

“We would average 700 to 800 jobs in an ordinary year,” Mr Caulfield said.

Despite Covid-19 lockdowns resulting in less people on the roads last year, call-out numbers to road incidents remained high.

“There really wasn’t much of a change in our numbers with road rescue jobs, the numbers changed the same which was surprising, we expected they’d take a dive,” Mr Caulfield said.

The SES unit saw a “flurry of crashes” on Melba Highway, Yering, which Mr Caulfield said resulted in VicRoads lowering the speed limit from 100km to 80km.

With Emerald attending the second highest number of callouts across the state, Mr Caulfield put the high local figures down to the storms that lashed the Valley and Dandenong Ranges mid and late last year, as well as the high number of road crashes and rescue jobs on local mountain terrain.

“We had quite a number of jobs where we had to assist Ambulance Victoria when people were injured walking on inaccessible terrain. I think we did 13 of those jobs last year and had a number of jobs on Scar Track, Mt Dandenong,” Mr Caulfield said.

But the opportunity to attend over a thousand jobs in a year doesn’t come without a dedicated team, with the Lilydale unit boasting 75 volunteers and an impressive number of new, younger recruits.

In recognition of National Volunteers Week, the Star Mail caught up with some of Lilydale SES’s volunteers to hear first-hand why they continue to devote their time.

Mr Caulfield’s teenage son, Sam, recently became the fourth-generation Caulfield to pull on the orange overalls – a moment that made Dad Shaun extremely proud.

“It’s pretty cool having him here as the fourth generation. My dad was involved in the SES and Civil Defence which was the precursor to the SES, and so was my grandfather,” Mr Caulfield said.

“It makes you proud. He is doing year 12 this year, there are a lot of things he could be involved with that are more self-centred than this, so it’s nice to see,” Mr Caulfield said.

But for 17-year-old Sam, the concept of volunteering has never really been a strange one.

“I like the fact that I get to help people. Dad has always been an ambo, mum was an ambo, and they were both in the SES. We would sit down for dinner and dad’s pager would beep and he’d say ‘gotta go’. I think it’s kind of like an obligation, because I can help I think I should help, there are people less fortunate and less able and therefore I feel like it’s something I should do,” Sam said.

Family ties aside, Mr Caulfield said the unit has volunteers “from all walks of life”.

“We have students, people who are retired, ministers of religion, stay at home mums, working mums, people in professional careers, career fire fighters, career ambo’s like myself and everything in between. I think that’s the beauty of it, once we put on the orange we are all the same. It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from or what you’ve done before, we train everyone in the skills they need,” Mr Caulfield said.

Lilydale SES Deputy Controller of Operations, Louise Andrews, has volunteered with the local unit for 18 years.

“I love just being able to help the community and show my kids that they should find something they’re passionate about and volunteer. I think everyone should volunteer at something and we have a lot of younger ones coming through now,” Ms Andrews said.

“The past history of the SES is people thought it was the retirees who would come and join, but we have everyone here from 17 to 73, so there is a very large range. Some have been in the service for 45 years,” she said.

For volunteer Robert Barker, the rewarding feeling of helping the community is what keeps him coming back.

“I’ve volunteered for six years now. I enjoy helping out the community, it is quite rewarding to go and help your neighbours in their time of strife, it has its own reward,” he said.

Fellow volunteer Lauren Daykin has given her time to the Lilydale SES unit for around a year-and-a-half.

“I just love giving back to the community and making a difference. I’ve gone to some searches and on some storm jobs. This is an awesome place to volunteer, there are a lot of good people here,” Ms Daykin said.