7 December 2023

Dapto SES unit celebrates a decade of mateship

| Zoe Cartwright
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Photo of Dapto SES

The founding members of Dapto SES, taken a decade ago. Today the unit boasts more than 80 volunteers. Photo: NSW SES.

Dapto State Emergency Service (SES) has marked a decade of showing up for the Illawarra community.

From floods, storms and bushfires to search and rescue response, the unit has responded to more than 2300 incidents since its inception.

Throughout the past 10 years, the NSW SES Dapto Unit has grown from 20 members to more than 80, who are trained in a range of capabilities, including flood rescue, vertical rescue and storm response.

Deputy Unit Commander Justin Thomsen said the team is motivated by a strong sense of mateship.

“As Australians, we can think of mateship as some kind of inherited trait, but we don’t always display it,” he said.

“I saw a group of people living and breathing that idea and wanted to be part of it, and here I am.”

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Mr Thomsen, 32, said he joined the Dapto crew almost five years ago and was impressed by volunteers’ passion from day one.

“I consistently see people clock off from their day job and then go out to care for the community,” he said.

“It’s never difficult to find people who want to go out and help. The unit is the embodiment of mateship, people who actually care and put their money where their mouth is.

“We live and breathe it 24 hours a day, every day of the year. It makes me proud.”

The anniversary comes after the man who led the team since the beginning announced his plans to step down.

Unit Commander David Bere said it has been an honour and a privilege to lead the unit as it has grown its membership and capabilities and, while he’ll stay on as a member, the time was right for someone else to step into the leadership role.

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“I worked my way through the ranks at Wollongong Unit and was the deputy unit commander there when the new unit opened so I put my hand up and helped develop it to what it is today,” Mr Bere said.

“I would say I have exceeded the vision I originally had for the unit, and while a new Unit Commander is yet to be appointed, I think the time is right for someone with new ideas to step up.

“We are like a second family, and our membership is diverse. We have people from under 18 right through to their late 70s. We are not short of people putting up their hand to volunteer here.

“I’ve done 30 years with the SES and I enjoy it, it’s a passion.”

Mr Thomsen said he had developed practical skills, as well as grown as a person, through volunteering with the SES, and urged anyone with an interest and a bit of free time to give it a go.

“It is difficult with people having to work more, but if you can find the time to give it is incredibly valuable to the community, and to yourself,” he said.

“I’ve picked up flood rescue and vertical rescue training, and bounced across most of the state, from Eugowra to Gunnedah and down to Bega and Eden.

“It’s a chance to put yourself outside your comfort zone, test yourself against an unknown environment, and look after your mates.”

If you’re interested in volunteering, visit the NSW SES website.

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