NINE Shoalhaven Red Cross emergency service volunteers have been presented with special NSW Bushfire Emergency Citation's for their efforts in last year's horrendous bushfires.
They were among 62 Shoalhaven Red Cross emergency volunteers to be recognised.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced the NSW Bushfire Emergency Citation to thank thousands of people who both fought the fires and supported communities behind the scenes.
The citations are being awarded to 636 Red Cross volunteers and staff around the state.
It is the first time such a citation has been awarded for a non-military or emergency services organisation.
The presentations were made during a special Red Cross luncheon at the Bomaderry Bowling Club on Thursday, November 26, in which a number of long service and other awards were also presented.
Red Cross Central and Southern Region manager Judy Harper said it was great to be able to acknowledge a great band of hard working volunteers.
"This is the first time this year we have been able to acknowledge our volunteers across the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, who contribute a huge amount, working every day of the week, but especially we are acknowledging our emergency service volunteers," she said.
"The Premier very kindly bestowed these special service awards to all 636 our emergency services volunteers across NSW in recognition of the work they did over the summer bushfire period last year.
"It's a special achievement for them and one that's so well deserved and it's nice to be able to present them in person."
Across the Shoalhaven region, Red Cross has just over 400 volunteers who support a variety of the organisation's work.
"Whether that is the the learner driver program, Telecross the community visitor scheme, the young parents program but a large cohort are our emergency services volunteers, who are divided into five team across the Shoalhaven," she said.
"They were the teams who responded in a wide variety of ways in the Shoalhaven during its emergency but were also deployed to other areas of NSW as required."
They were the teams who responded in a wide variety of ways in the Shoalhaven during its emergency but were also deployed to other areas of NSW as required.Red Cross Central and Southern Region manager Judy Harper
She said it is hoped Australia will never see a year like 2020 again.
"It's been an unprecedented year," she admitted.
"Our teams had to open 16 evacuation centres on one night across NSW - that is unheard of," she said.
"Now we are still working in that area - during that activation there was a high amount of work which was really visible and everybody knows about it but the work of our recovery teams and volunteers who are still going out and door knocking and finding those people in communities who have not come forward for support yet, will continue on for years.
"That work has not stopped - it was briefly stopped by COVID, but our work then ramped up in different ways, like checking in on people who were really impacted by COVID and isolation.
"A lot of our emergency services volunteers did that as well. They have been making tens of thousands of calls to people who are in quarantine in hotels as they came back into the country - 15,000 calls were made to people during that and at the same time we were still doing the recovery work within the community in relation to the bushfires in this region."
Ms Harper said volunteers are enormous and the Red Cross "could not survive without them".
Our volunteers are enormous and the Red Cross could not survive without them.Red Cross Central and Southern Region manager Judy Harper
"As an organisation we are based on one fundamental principle of voluntary service," she said.
"We are not able to do anything we do without our volunteers; without their dedication, their skills and expertise. They bring such a wealth of knowledge and experience and in particular their local knowledge of their communities is invaluable.
"Especially during the times of a disaster, we wouldn't be able to do anything without our volunteers and that's why we work really hard to acknowledge them. A lot don't want to be. They often say 'we don't do anything' but their contribution is enormous and this is one small way we can acknowledge them and it is particularly nice that the premier has acknowledged those emergency services volunteers."
Volunteer Jeff Cockrem, who is an Emergency Service Liaison Officer (ESLO) for Southern NSW said the last 12 months has been "incredible".
His role is to see all the teams in our area and see what they are doing throughout the year and help as needed.
"There has been a lot discussion over the last 12 months about outreach and community involvement, that is ongoing and will be going for a long time," he said.
"This year has been an incredible year as everybody knows. The one thing I see everywhere I go is community resilience, which is so strong. It's been an amazing thing to witness."
Mr Cockrem volunteers to "give something back to the community".
"We moved to the South Coast from Sydney 20 years ago. I think the next Christmas 2000-2001 was the first fire we experienced very close to home at St Georges Basin," he said.
This year has been an incredible year as everybody knows. The one thing I see everywhere I go is community resilience, which is so strong. It's been an amazing thing to witness.Red Cross volunteer and Southern NSW Emergency Service Liaison Officer Jeff Cockrem
"It made me think of ways to give back to support and I've been able to do that somewhat in my role.
"The Shoalhaven is a resilient area - it has been full on - the fires, the following floods and, of course, COVID it just keeps going - everywhere I've been, Kangaroo Valley and south of here has been amazing to witness the strength of the community spirit."
He said being acknowledged is not something that "sits comfortably" with him.
"There is a lot to get an award and I don't think any of us are in it for that. But it is a lovely thing to have and I accept it wholeheartedly," he said.
Mr Cockrem encourages people to get involved and volunteer.
"It's simple - just get involved," he said.
"It's a great way, particularly with the Red Cross, putting some effort back into the community. Join your local team anywhere in Australia. It's a very rewarding experience."
Fellow volunteer, Elizabeth Rocheta, who is a team leader of the Vincentia emergency services team that looks after the Bay and Basin area agreed, it was nice to be recognised.
The Shoalhaven is a resilient area - it has been full on - the fires, the following floods and, of course, COVID it just keeps going - it's been amazing to witness the strength of the community spirit.Red Cross volunteer and Southern NSW Emergency Service Liaison Officer Jeff Cockrem
"To be acknowledged like this is a first - I accepted the invitation to a volunteers' Christmas party which turned into a presentation to the emergency services volunteers," she said.
"It's something I'm very proud of - it will be framed and put on display."
Ms Rocheta described the scene at the St Georges Basin Country Club, an evacuation centre during last year's emergency.
"We saw a lot of elderly people in our area who were frightened out of their wits with the whole bushfire emergency," she said.
"There were three black days where you could not see, smell or breath and they came into the evacuation centre at the St Georges Basin Country Club and all they wanted was a quiet place where they could sit and be offered comfort and know they were safe for the time being.
We saw a lot of elderly people in our area who were frightened out of their wits with the whole bushfire emergency. There were three black days where you could not see, smell or breath and they came into the evacuation centre and all they wanted was a quiet place where they could sit and be offered comfort and know they were safe for the time being.Red Cross volunteer, and Vincentia emergency services team leader Elizabeth Rocheta
"We also had a lot of location evacuees - a lot of people were stuck on the highway trapped by fires - many wearing just bathing costumes and towels.
"They required a safe place to sit and not be on the side of the road."
At its peak the Basin centre dealt with about 300 people in three hours.
"We are like the triage in an evacuation centre," she said.
"We meet and greet people, we observe how they are behaving - send them off to an agency they might need to get help from; and make sure we carry out whatever the centre manager of the evacuation centre requires of us."
To be a good volunteer she said it requires to "take one's self out of the way - the ego must be put aside - you are there to help and serve."
We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.