Join in ... with the State Emergency Service

CJ Smith-Walton invites you to join the SES' Murray Bridge unit.

CJ Smith-Walton brandishes the jaws of life, one of many bits of specialised equipment he uses as an SES volunteer. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

When disaster strikes, the orange-clad volunteers of the State Emergency Service are there.

It’s their job to save lives and protect homes, businesses, infrastructure and livestock during emergencies, in concert with firefighters, paramedics and police officers.

The agency has about 1700 volunteers across South Australia, including about 15 to 20 in Murray Bridge.

Its Thomas Street base feels like a scaled-up action playset: there’s a truck and two four-wheel drives, trailers full of equipment for dealing with storms and floods, a rescue boat and even a sandbag-making machine.

But this is no game.

Lives and livelihoods depend on the SES’ ability to respond to almost any situation.

One of those responders is CJ Smith-Walton.

When did you first get involved with the SES?

I joined when I was 17 and a half. I’m now 22. My brother joined when I was 16 and the unit manager at that time was like, “would you like to join?” I said I was only 16, and she said “come back when you’re of age”. From that day I set a countdown calendar and I kept taking off one day after the other.

What do you get out of your involvement?

I’d always wanted to do something like this, to find my place. It has helped me through a lot of things. I love helping the community. That’s what drives me the most: helping the community, preventing loss of lives, preventing risks to people ... Helping the community with any assistance they need. If it’s someone’s roof blown off, they’re my favourite jobs. Even going to car accidents, rescuing people – I’d try to say something positive to help them, even on their worst day.

What is your fondest memory of your time with the SES?

A couple of nights ago, when we had that storm, we went out and a family was so grateful for us helping, so thankful for what we’d done. It reminds me of why I do this: for the community to have a helping hand they can call on. You see some weird stuff out there, though. You go to some incidents and you think “how did this happen?”

What do you spend your time doing?

We train on Tuesdays, then through the week it depends what type of week it is. We might get four call-outs a week, or two – weather; road crashes; searches; assisting SAPOL or SAAS (paramedics), CFS or MFS with lighting; all types of stuff. (On Tuesday) we did one at 2am, just a tree down. But you’ve always got to make sure things are safe for the community.

What is your goal with the SES?

The biggest thing I want to achieve is to (make people more aware of hazards). And of course everyone wants to move up the chain of command. I’ll go wherever I get put. It came as a shock to me when I became a deputy team leader.

Why should people join the SES?

We’re one big family and we’ll welcome you. If you want to help the community, this is the next step. You could be a person on the sidewalk, but you could come in here as well and see the bigger picture. When I have children, I want them to grow up knowing they can join up and help the community in so many different ways. You see things you’d never see in everyday life, and you go out and help people.

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