Ahead of national volunteer week – and 'Wear Orange Wednesday' – the NSW State Emergency Service has launched the first of hundreds of new vehicles to be rolled out over 10 years. 
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The NSW State Emergency Service (SES) has launched the latest round of its multimillion-dollar fleet renewal program to better prepare rescue volunteers for floods, fires and other disasters.

The first of seven “heavy rescue” trucks – worth approximately $500,000 once it has been kitted out – was delivered to an SES unit in the NSW Southern Highlands today.

It is part of a $110 million fleet renewal program that includes the replacement of 450 of the fleet of 750 vehicles, 300 of the 370 flood response vessels, and 240 of the 950 specialised trailers over 10 years.

Until recently, SES vehicles in NSW were funded by local councils, but the state government has since taken over the funding and procurement of vehicles to better support emergency services in times of crisis.

The NSW SES fleet was previously “a mixed bag” of vehicles with varying levels of equipment and capability, said SES fleet renewal manager Keith Simmons.

“Previously there were well-funded councils where the local SES unit was well supported and had highly capable vehicles, and there were some councils with less capable vehicles,” said Mr Simmons. In one instance, one SES unit was using an old removalist truck.

Since the SES vehicle replacement program commenced, it has replaced vehicles that were more than 30 years old.

“The average age of the fleet is now below 20 years, and the aim of the program is to keep the fleet below an average of 15 years,” said Mr Simmons.

“SES volunteers need to have vehicles with modern safety features. Our members are doing a hard job in circumstances where most of us wouldn’t go outside,” said Mr Simmons. “They are giving up time with their families to run towards danger when the rest of us would run away.”

Every state has a different arrangement for its SES units. Some states have centrally-funded vehicles, other states split the cost with councils – and, in some jurisdictions, SES units rely on fundraising to purchase vehicles and equipment.

In NSW, the SES supports other agencies such as the fire bridge, fire and rescue, the rural fire service, as well as police, police rescue, ambulance and ambulance rescue.

“SES volunteers do everything from protecting a scene, assisting with searches, assisting with rescues at serious road crashes, as well as supporting first responders when there are fires, floods, and storm damage to homes,” said Mr Simmons.

The heavy rescue trucks are equipped with “the jaws of life” to extract occupants in severe vehicle crashes, plus flood rescue equipment, and countless other tools used to save lives in dangerous predicaments.

The Isuzu six-seater mid-wheelbase trucks have also had lap-sash seatbelts fitted to the centre back seats (rather than lap only belts) to boost occupant safety when responding to an emergency.

While Toyota LandCruiser Prado vehicles are used in the alpine region, the NSW SES fleet primarily uses Isuzu D-Max utes and Isuzu MU-X four-wheel-drives across the state to assist with communications technology, deploying volunteers to a scene quickly, and towing vital equipment installed in specialised trailers.

Many of the vehicles are fitted with satellite communications to keep the lines open in remote areas.

Eight snowmobiles have been added for rescues in the alpine region, and other off-road rescue buggies could follow.

A number of military grade Mercedes Unimog trucks will be equipped to assist with flood rescues, while a fleet of Iveco four-wheel-drive pick-ups (such as the example pictured above) are used to boost communications when fires or floods have wiped out mobile phone networks – or assist where no coverage exists.

The fleet of Mercedes-Benz Sprinter four-wheel-drive double-cab utes – known as “light storm response vehicles” –will be expanded in the coming years following successful trials in the field.

There are approximately 24,000 SES volunteers across Australia, including 9000 in NSW, 5300 in Queensland, 5000 in Victoria, 2100 in Western Australia, 1600 in South Australia, 550 in Tasmania, 400 in the Australian Capital Territory and 300 in the Northern Territory.

Next week is National Volunteer Week across Australia, and next Wednesday is “Wear Orange Wednesday” in support of the SES.

You can make a donation, become a volunteer, or learn more about the SES here.