SES workers. Picture: contributed.
SES workers. Picture: contributed.

SES in dire straits as volunteer numbers dwindle

A PILOT program aimed at attracting and retaining SES members in Mackay has been slammed by volunteers who say it is a last-ditch effort to feign action.

The Queensland Fire and Emergency Services program comes after figures revealed 22 Mackay volunteers had been taken off the books in the past month alone and in locations like Koumala, SES units no longer existed due to dwindling numbers.

Isaac Region local controller Alex McPhee said there were only 80 SES volunteers spread across the entire Isaac district - no longer enough to have an operational road crash rescue unit.

He said the small teams in Nebo and St Lawrence were only available if volunteers were not at work, meaning the first responders in a rural crash were QFES units from Moranbah or Mackay.

"It takes about an hour for those red trucks to make it to somewhere like Nebo and everyone knows the first 45 minutes are crucial to saving someone's life after an accident," Mr McFee said.

"I do think it is very concerning."

Mr McFee said the Isaac region had struggled with volunteer numbers since the mining downturn.

He said the transient population made it near impossible to retain an SES unit.

"We do need at least another 60 volunteers," he said.

After Cyclone Debbie in 2016, 12 SES volunteers in Koumala left the organisation overnight.

One of those volunteers, who wished to remain anonymous, said the mass exit was caused by a lack of support during the extreme weather event and a "changing" culture within SES.

"It has turned into a bureaucracy, like a second workplace with all of the certifications and training that we were required to have," the ex-volunteer said.

"We were told we were not qualified enough even though some of us had been SES volunteers for decades, so we had seen it all.

"It has become too political. If someone is in danger or needs help, they won't be worried about whether the person saving their life has a blue card or not."

Mackay councillor and SES volunteer Justin Englert questioned whether the QFES pilot program was no more than a "name change".

>> Concerning drop in number of vital volunteer numbers

He said the SES had always offered flexible volunteering options to members and the real problem that needed to be addressed was the "administrative" expectations put on volunteers.

"I'm confused because this new program seems very similar to the actions conducted by the SES for the past 30 years," Cr Englert said.

"There is already an extraordinary amount of pressure put on volunteers, they are essentially managing a workplace when they already have full-time jobs and families.

"There were previously administrative assistants working for the SES in Mackay but from my understanding those assistants were removed and told they were no longer required."

As of March 31 this year, any SES volunteer who does not hold a current blue card will not be able to continue in their role.

To date, 70 per cent of all SES volunteers had applied for a blue card.

Cr Englert said he feared losing 30 per cent of Mackay's SES volunteer numbers would be dire.

"I don't believe we would be prepared in the event of a large cyclone or flood."