Decorated local controller for the Armidale Dumaresq unit, passionate thespian and all-round great guy, Josh Osborne tells FOCUS what it’s like to be in his role at such a young age. Winning the 2015 NSW Youth Volunteer of the Year award, Josh loves being an active member of the State Emergency Service and making a difference in the community.
Tell us how you became involved with the SES …
I have been a volunteer of the SES for the last nine years, and a very active member at that. We are the primary rescue unit here, which involves road crash rescue and vertical rescue too. I went through the rank system, becoming a deputy team leader, team leader, rescue officer, deputy local controller then about four years ago I was asked by the local command team if I’d like to become the local controller.
You must have see some crazy stuff …
During this time of year, storm season affects many. Last night we had a significant hail storm in Armidale, which resulted in about 22 jobs coming through. The rescue stuff happens all year round, because accidents happen. The volunteers of this unit are exposed to some pretty traumatic stuff. It can be really confronting, and what saves us is the group of people we do it with. We are really good at supporting each other through those times. The service (SES) has a great system for checking in on us and making sure that we are OK. The attitude that we have here is, don’t cause yourself any distress. We want our members to know that it’s alright if they don’t attend certain call outs.
Is there anything that stands out?
Absolutely. Long rescues out at the gorge assisting Police. But probably the one that stands out as quite complicated and very long was a cattle truck roll-over on Bundarra Road. It had two multi level carriages with lots of injured animals. It took about two hours to cut and get all the animals out. It was a long one and involved a lot of different agencies. We really were trying to get the best outcomes for the animals. Police, Fire and Rescue, Rural Fire Service and Essential Energy were there, as a power line had fallen and was on the truck. Department of Primary Industries, vets, the owners of the truck company, the Armidale Dumaresq Council were there too. There were many people there and as you could imagine, it was a really big job.
How many members do you have at the moment?
Active members and people who contribute to the unit are around 50. Also, we have some people that we can call in on a large event, such as last night. Everybody has varying levels of expertise. It’s a broad group, from university students, tradesmen, the older demographic and working professionals.
For an event such as last night’s hail storm, what’s the process?
Firstly, we arrived at the headquarters here on Mann Street and we opened our operations centre. We then sent out four teams to the 22 jobs that were logged. I generally stay here, unless I can get out, because I really enjoy doing the physical stuff. We got all the necessary resources out to the teams, making sure they were being fed, what teams were to be sent to which jobs, depending on the severity or complexity of the job. We kept people above us in the loop; there’s also a level of social media to let people know to be patient and that we are out there. It’s a very different process if it’s a rescue job; we need to be putting the right people in the right job. We only want to get the best outcomes in everything we do.
What do you do when you’re not here controlling the local SES?
Well, obviously this is a voluntary position, so I work as support worker at Freeman House. I’m restarting working at Pathways too. One of the things I find enjoyable is theatre. I’ve been involved in the scene for many years; it’s a creative outlet for me which I really enjoy doing, and it “refills my cup”, as it were. I also do a bit of volunteering with the Westpac Rescue Helicopter as the secretary for the committee.
Wow, you are giving so much of yourself to the community. How many hours are you volunteering currently?
I’d say around 10 hours a week, which is subject to change at any given moment. Often we are called out of area. Recently we were called out to the Lismore floods. I went up there as a voluntary Operations Officer, which was effectively third in charge of a major disaster. That was four days of 12 hour shifts. That was a six day hiatus for me, which do arise, whether it be flood or storm work. More recently I’ve been asked to fulfill roles in the Incident Management Teams; that’s really full-on, managing hundreds of people from many teams.
What would help you do your job?
SES is changing. Volunteering is changing; people aren’t time-rich, and we see that. So, we need to adapt too. We always need members, particularly people who are available for rescues during the day. It’s quite difficult to negotiate, to be able to leave work to attend a local emergency. At the moment, we are feeling the pinch. So if you are available, get in touch.
What would make your life easier?
People taking care of their homes; cleaning the gutters – seems trivial, but during a heavy downpour, the water has nowhere to go but inside. Trees that are close to windows, a fierce windstorm smashes windows – trimming them back helps. If you have trees that look unwell, get an arborist. On the rescue front, make plans with people who aren’t going with you to notify us if you aren’t back in time. Basic preparations.
Yes, it’s our families, partners, our bosses and the community that make our work possible. None of this would be possible with them, helping us to help our community.
Thanks Josh, and keep up the great work.