SUPERMARKET night manager Michael Kenny has been a volunteer with the State Emergency Service (SES) for the past five years, starting off in Frankston, before relocating to the Bass Coast in 2018.
We caught up with Michael ahead of National Volunteer Week (Monday, May 18, to Sunday, May 24) to find out what motivates him to give up his time to respond to the wide range of emergencies affecting his community on a daily basis.
How did you get involved with the SES?
I was looking for something to do to put back into the community and the SES was recommended to me by a mate who used to be a CFA volunteer.
He thought, with my skillset and what I was interested in, it would be a good fit, and he wasn’t wrong!
Things like chainsawing, four-wheel driving, even hunting, which I used to do quite a lot – a lot of those skills have transferred over to search and rescue.
What’s the best thing about your role as unit controller?
Helping others is something you obviously get a real good kick out of, but also learning new skills.
There are so many different aspects to it: road rescue, swiftwater rescue, assisting police on crime scene searches… I’ve learned a lot.
And I’ve made lifelong friends, people I never would’ve met otherwise.
The camaraderie is one of the best things. You don’t have to be in long to be welcomed in as part of the ‘orange family’.
What’s challenging about it?
Being a controller, you’re in charge of all the volunteers in your unit, so there’s a lot of behind the scenes paperwork, phone calls… as well as responding yourself to emergencies that might be far away.
Anything involving children is always challenging, and I think that goes for everyone in the service- your heart sinks as soon as you hear there’s kids involved in a road accident.
But you just have to go into ‘game on’ mode and do the best job you can.
We see some pretty gruesome stuff… sometimes we go out not expecting to find someone alive, but you deal with it as you go. I’m lucky I’ve got excellent support from my partner.
Some of my most memorable rescues are the ones that have been really challenging but had a good outcome.
There was one back in Frankston where two young boys were speeding and doing burnouts, and they wrapped their car around a tree. Getting them out quickly, but not too quickly, was quite a challenge, but they both ended up making a full recovery.
Why should more people give volunteering a go?
No matter what the organisation, whether it’s the SES, CFA, Red Cross… as much as you put in, you’ll get out of it. If you put a lot in, you get a lot out; it changes your life.
Volunteers are all there for the same reason, all putting in to respond to people in times of need, and there’s just something about that you can’t really replicate.
For me, there’s a satisfaction in helping people in their lowest times, like last year’s hailstorm at Cape Paterson.
I took a crew down to help out the Wonthaggi unit and there was one lady whose house was damaged but there wasn’t really anything we could do.
It turned out she’d been through a divorce or separation and she was trying to sell the house. She broke down tears in front of us and I sat with her for about half an hour just talking, helping her calm down. At the end of it, she seemed like she was in a better place.