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Congratulations to Jo Hunter on her ESM award

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Jul 5, 2022

JOSEPHINE (Jo) Hunter, unit controller at Marysville SES, was awarded an Emergency Services Medal (ESM) at the Queen’s Birthday awards.

She moved to Marysville as a teenager with her family, and joined the Marysville SES a couple of years later, in 2004, along with her sister. They knew some people who were in the unit as they were invited along. They decided to join.

“I think starting so early, it becomes a bit of a habit, a routine, to head along each Tuesday night. From there, I just stayed,” she said.

Just two years later, she became deputy controller, and two years after that became controller, initially acting in the role. She’s now been controller for 10 years formally.

She said of her experience with the SES, “It’s been a fantastic opportunity for me. It’s certainly built a lot of leadership skills as well as the practical skills that you learn. I never had a background in working with tools and equipment and trucks and all that sort of stuff, but have developed that, and a lot of skills that are applicable to my day job.

“The other side of it is that you’re part of a big team, so one, your local team, the Marysville team, which had been fantastic and I’ve met some great people and developed friendships with them. There’s that community connection. And there’s the wider SES team as well. It’s a huge organisation and I guess because of the opportunities I’ve had, I’ve met people all over the state and other states as well. People in NSW and other that I’ve worked with. Almost without exception, everyone’s a really great person and there for the right reasons, and keen to work with you.

“I guess the third element is helping people and that’s probably what I like about the SES. Every job you go to, you’re directly helping someone, and it’s really obvious when you’re there, whether it’s a patient or whether you’re helping get a tree off someone’s roof, you always know you’re helping them which is a really positive and rewarding thing,” she said.

Some of the large jobs she’s been involved in include Black Saturday, and large searches including searches for children, such as the Lake Eildon search in 2015 for Luke Shambrook. Luke was found after five or six days missing. She’s also been involved in some large road rescues and deployments interstate.

She said that what stands out most are the people, such as working with crews to come up with solutions, and seeing other members develop their skills.

“When you’re at a job, it’s that moment you make a first connection with the casualty or someone that’s lost and you see the relief, and the anxiety removes from their eyes. On a search, there’s always this amazing moment, it’s one of my favourite moments, when you’re climbing across the Cathedral in the dark and you’re calling out, and the first time you hear someone respond to you, you hear the relief in their voice, it’s pretty amazing,” she said.

“Then you meet up with them and you can tell they’ve had that moment of feeling like they’re lost, and at risk and in jeopardy, and suddenly you arrive and the relief and the trust they place in you is a pretty rewarding moment. And the same in a car crash. That first time you poke your head in and make eye contact with the casualty, and holding their hand, and you just see them relax as much as they can. They hand over complete trust in you to get them out.”

While it can be quite an emotional job at times, Jo tends to focus on doing the job, and believes this comes down to the quality of the training they have. She also commented on how important it is to have a team around you, knowing what skills they have and what they’ll do. “You just problem-solve,” she said. “You methodically work through it.”

Sometimes after the job it can be more emotional when a casualty or the family come back and make contact with the team for a visit, particularly when they’ve made a recovery from major injuries, and just want to say thank you.

It can also be difficult when distressed family and friends are present with a casualty, however Jo said that they have great support services and training.

The SES is traditionally a male-oriented organisation, however in the north east region, more than half of the unit controllers are women. Jo said that on a personal level, she hasn’t found her gender to be a huge barrier, “however it’s certainly present and it’s great to see it being addressed proactively in the service.”

When she was younger, she’d show up at a job and by default, the people from the other emergency services there would look to the older male as being the most experienced, not realising that I might have 10 years more experience. It’s very quickly sorted out, and part of that comes through presenting with confidence and knowing your stuff.

“We’re lucky to have such a close-knit wider emergency services group here, so there’s never any question locally, and I get awesome support from the police and the CFA and ambulance locally as well.”

Another highlight of her time with the SES has been building relationships with the different emergency services, working as one. “There’s nothing more helpful than being able to look over at a major job and know the name of the person in a different uniform standing beside you, and be able to work with them and not have any barriers between the different organisations.”

Jo has worked at the Department of Land, Water, Environment and Planning since 2010, and throughout that time they have been very supportive of her volunteering, and they understand its importance in a small community, and most of her managers understand that it could be for them or one of their family members one day when she runs out the door. They also have emergency services leave in their workplace agreement.

Day to day, she manages one of the statewide units which currently provides capability solutions for firefighting, including the provision of specialist firefighting equipment and fleets and other items.

Asked whether she had a wish list for what people visiting the area should do when adventuring in the bush, Jo said preparation is the key, whether coming up for a picnic or going to the snow or going for a hike. This might include checking the weather, checking the road conditions, confirming the route, and using reliable sources of information. She would also like to see people working within their limits. Often on the Cathedral Range, people may go beyond their own limits, so turning around when you get in trouble is a good idea. This applies whether driving in the snow or going for a hike.

If people are lost, they should stop, stay still, and let emergency services know. Never be shy about it, as they would rather know early. They’re always happy to head out and help people. The SES has some great systems and technology to find people’s location, based off their call for help. The challenge comes in when people are moving. Keep still, find some shelter and make yourself visible. If you’re in the Cathedral Range, they will find you.

“We will probably know where you are, even if you don’t,” Jo said.

Jo said of her ESM, “No-one in the SES ever chases individual accolades or awards… but this particular award for me is very much a reflection of what the team does, and the wider SES. Nothing in the SES happens without teamwork. No-one ever goes to a job by themselves. No-one ever completes a job by themselves. Everything relies on having a well-skilled and dedicated team. For me, this is more of a reflection of what the Marysville unit members past and present have done over the years together.”

New members are always welcome to join the SES. Locally, contact the Marysville or Alexandra SES.

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