LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Wonderful women in orange who risk so much

HEROES: International Women's Day was an opportunity to pay tribute to the female volunteers of the NSW State Emergency Service. Photo: FILE PHOTO
HEROES: International Women's Day was an opportunity to pay tribute to the female volunteers of the NSW State Emergency Service. Photo: FILE PHOTO

WHENEVER you find people at their most vulnerable, you are likely to find a woman, but don’t expect them to limit their role to comforter, carer or counsellor.

In 2018 they will challenge stereotypes and biases and, as International Women's Day highlighted the vital role women play in humanitarian and disaster planning and response.

At the NSW State Emergency Service (SES) these women – of all ages, backgrounds and professions – are on the front line of natural and man-made disasters, and they’ll be stronger, braver, more spirited and gutsy than traditional clichés ever allow.

The Orange City SES has 12 women – a third of the local work force – who respond frequently to call-outs for storm and flood damage, emergency operations, or assistance in natural disasters.

63-year-old Sharon Hesse, manager of St Francis Aged Care in Orange, can comfortably wield the chainsaw, removing a tree blocking the highway or the driveway.

57-year-old Wendy Butterfield, a former Australia Post worker, can be spotted at the top of a ladder or negotiating a rooftop with a tarpaulin to secure a house after high winds or drenching rain cause havoc.

36-year-old Liann Deyssing, a geologist at the Department of Primary Industries, was on site at the recent bushfire on Mount Canobolas, working with teams from the NSW Police Force, the NSW Rural Fire Service, Fire and Rescue NSW and the Ambulance Service of NSW to protect landowners and property from the flames.

62-year-old Patrice Watson, an office administrator for a small local firm, kitted out in the distinctive orange overalls - the international colour of rescue - was one of dozens of volunteers taking part in the bush search of a man lost for several days on eastern slopes of Mount Canobolas several years ago.

You will find these women at evidence searches, floods and storms; all members of a volunteer organisation that provides emergency assistance to Orange and Cabonne residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year in and year out.

And, when needed, they will travel further afield, because they have skills that are at the core of the service; first aid, map reading and navigation, land and urban search, four-wheel driving, boat rescue, radio and communications and ground support for other first responders.

They come equipped with leadership and team management skills. They are dedicated. They enjoy a joke and share a strong camaraderie with the blokes in orange overalls and, as volunteers, they are on the same pay scale.

They are confident and competent. They are as good an example of women's achievements as you'll find.

Local Controller for Orange City SES Kim Stevens said while he is proud of the work they do he is never surprised by their skill and dedication.

“They meet every expectation, tackle every challenge, handle every situation and are committed to supporting their community in times of need,” he said.

And they are also quite handy when it comes to comfort, care and counselling.

Keiren McLeonard

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