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A Brief History of the Victoria State Emergency Service

The Victoria State Emergency Service and Civil Defence Organisation, to give it the full title, started in the period immediately before World War II; the late 1930's were times of tense international relations. The Civil Defence Organisation structure was raised to provide a core of trained leaders who could be rapidly expanded to meet any potential wartime requirements. After World War II the organisation fell into limbo, no longer having a perceived role, it was resurrected in the mid 1950s.

That Civil Defence Organisation Structure and its development of the Civil Defence Plan was the forerunner of the State Disaster Plan now known as DISPLAN. In 1962 it was expanded to cover peacetime disasters and at that time municipalities (several of which already had local disaster plans in place i.e.: Swan Hill had a River Flood Plan in 1957), were asked by the Premier's Department to formalise their plans under the Civil Defence Organisation and to raise units of trained personnel to carry out duties in the event of a disaster.

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Much of that initial training was based on war time awareness with atomic bomb education being in the foreground, but it was in civil disaster like bush fire where the Civil Defence Organisation showed its value, it was never perceived that Civil Defence personnel would be used as front line fire fighters, their value was ensuring that the fire brigades were fully supported by all available resources to enable them to fight the fires, this included co-ordinating municipal resources like street washers as water supply vehicles, providing first aid, moving rations, co-ordinating the movement of fire victims and looking after their general welfare.

1962 was the year that the Civil Defence Organisation was given a community role. From this community role arose the need to ensure that the volunteers were adequately covered by an insurance scheme. Given the risks that faced them in that role and in 1972, the Volunteer Civil Defence Compensation Act was introduced with far reaching effects - the legislation attempted to define the role of Civil Defence volunteers, from this arose the Emergency Management Act and the State Emergency Services Act both of which reflect an amplification of the initial act.

The State Emergency Service became official on 5th March 1975 and on the 8th October 1977 was awarded its Charter. The Charter states:
"The role of the Victoria State Emergency Service and Civil Defence Organisation is to plan, organise, co-ordinate and implement measures that are necessary or desirable in respect of the safety of the public and are designed to guard against, prevent, reduce or overcome the effects, or possible effects, of emergencies to life, health or property within the State of Victoria."

The State Emergency Services Act defines the following functions of the State Emergency Service:
•    to assist the Chief Commissioner of Police to plan and organise measures to deal with emergencies and their effects.
•    to assist the bodies and organisations responsible for dealing with emergencies and their efforts to discharge their responsibilities.
•    to deal with floods and windstorms and their effects.
•    to provide a rescue service for persons involved in road crashes.
•    to co-ordinate and assist bodies and organisations providing welfare services to persons affected by emergencies - but shall not include engaging in or preparing for armed combat

With the advent of the State Emergency Service Act, other emergency services began to recognise that the State Emergency Service was a valuable ally and a bona fide emergency service.

In 1983, in addition to the disastrous fires during which State Emergency Service volunteers performed so admirably, there commenced a plethora of investigations, probes, inquiries and similar activities which in every case examined the State Emergency Service in one way or the other.
The Victoria State Emergency Service currently has about 5,500 volunteer members, 150 units and about sixty full time personnel, stationed at Victorian Headquarters located at 151 Sturt Street, South Melbourne, and various country regional headquarters. Each group of regions, usually two or three, which align with Victoria Police regions or districts, is controlled by a full time State Emergency Service officer, the Regional Director, assisted by a Regional Officer and one or more Regional Assistants.
Since 1987 rationalisation with the State Emergency Service coming under the Ministry of Police and Emergency Services, several changes have occurred which are not generally noticed.

The Victoria State Emergency Service is the largest provider of road crash rescue services in Australia, maybe the World. For more information about the Victoria State Emergency Service, visit our web page at http://www.ses.vic.gov.au/ and visit the history section.

Last Updated (Monday, 26 October 2009 17:39)

 
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