First on the scene

April 1, 2021 BY

Bellarine SES unit controller John Ryan centre, with fellow volunteers. Photo: GEORGIA HOLLOWAY

SES unit controller John Ryan has learned to recognise increased risks on the road.

Mr Ryan began volunteering at the Bellarine Unit in 2013 after finding more time to give back to his community.

While many prepare to welcome visitors or head off over the Easter long weekend, Mr Ryan is instead trying to create awareness for fellow first responders and the hardships they often face.

“I had my breakdown two months ago,” he said.

“What surprised me was all the emotions I had bottled up and all the different things that I had seen suddenly came flashing back.

“It was extremely emotional, and I couldn’t understand why or where this had come from.”

Mr Ryan, like many first responders, found himself in a depressive state and is now hoping that his experience can help educate others.

“You get a call in the middle of the night and it’s a road accident,” he said.

“You’re going half a sleep and you’re confronted with a situation where you hope for the best. When you have time to stop and think all the questions come back into your mind, ‘did I do the right thing, could I have done better?’.

“It becomes frustrating when you start to see through things that could have been avoided, and you see a telephone on person’s lap.

“I remember talking to a police officer at a scene, it was horrific two had cars collided and he said, ‘John these things aren’t accidents these things are caused when someone isn’t paying attention’.”

While SES members have access to extensive support networks through the organisation, including Beyond Blue and Peer Support, they often live with harrowing memories.

“An emotional trigger brought me to my knees and I will live with this for the rest of my life,” he said.

“The strain it puts on your family and working life is something that is not notable to most people.”

The Bellarine SES responds to a series of incidents including car accidents, floods, fallen trees as well as search and rescues.

“People don’t realise most of the emergency service personnel are volunteers and those volunteers are any ‘Joe Blow’ that walks in and takes responsibility for serving their community,” he said.

“Believe me, I don’t know how the professional paid staff could possibly cope without the support of volunteer organisations throughout Australia.”

Despite the hard times, Mr Ryan says there are many things he loves about his role.

“The gratitude that comes back from the community when we are able to assist them is the greatest gift we get out of the SES,” he said.

With the Easter long weekend upon us, Mr Ryan is hoping people will consider what they can do to minimise threats on the road.

“Plan ahead to make sure fatigue doesn’t set in as that is one of the biggest killers on the road and, when travelling long distances, give yourself plenty of time and get there safely,” he said.

“You don’t want to see some of the things I have seen.”