The Harden Unit of the NSW State Emergency Service (SES) has a new recruit whose mission is to offer affection, compassion and lots of licks to people.
In a state first, the unit’s new mascot – a black and white border collie-labrador cross called Sessy – has been harnessed for a community engagement role.
This plan was hatched over a few sausages and chops. As a pup, she was special guest at a post-storm gathering around a barbecue and, proving a social hit, everyone got to thinking there had to be a way to keep her around.
That was back in February 2021. In just weeks she’d been named thanks to a public Facebook poll which prompted NSW SES Commissioner Carlene York to select Sessy, after a suggestion from Robyn Anne Read.
Since then, Sessy has been coming along in leaps and bounds, nailing the basic training of ‘heel’, ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘come’.
Sessy’s also starting to grow into her uniform and is set to earn her three stars, generally designated to deputy local controllers.
She and her brother belong to existing SES members so both dogs are regulars around the Harden SES headquarters. However, recently Sessy commanded all the attention when she was introduced to the public at the inaugural Harden Emergency Services Family Fun Day.
At the event, amid NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW Police, NSW Fire and Rescue, SWS SES and NSW Ambulance representation, Sessy was seen in the arms and at the feet of various people, including NSW SES Deputy Commissioner Daniel Austin and Harden Unit SES Commander Garry Buckley, who was disguised as Elvis for the day.
Judging by the 500 people in attendance, the day was a hit. As was Sessy.
“She’s been very popular and it means people are drawn to you because they want to pat a puppy,” said Commander Buckley.
This helps break down any barriers between the public and members, allowing for better dialogue and communication.
“A mascot is a fun thing and helps to bring attention to the work of the SES,” said Commander Buckley. “But if we go to a job and the dog is with us and you have an upset child or someone who is feeling traumatised – normally when we get to a house during a storm people are most vulnerable – a dog could ease the situation.”
With additional training and a few more months under her belt, it’s hoped Sessy will start attending jobs. Updates will be regularly provided on the Harden Unit’s SES Facebook page, which is a good thing because with 11 members, Harden SES is also on the search for volunteer recruits of the two-legged variety.
Commander Buckley said the recent open day caught the attention of three potential members.
“If we get 15 or 16 unit members in Harden, I’m happy,” he said. “We’re only a small town.”
Floods and storms command most of Harden SES’s attention, from south to Jugiong and north to Boorowa, but SES unit members have also assisted at motor vehicle accidents, bushfire emergencies and search and rescue missions.
NSW SES volunteers come from all walks of life and bring a wide range of skills, experiences and backgrounds to the roles they perform, from providing on-the-ground support and assisting in operational support roles, to raising community awareness through education programs.
For instance, Commander Buckley works for ACT Health and is based in Canberra during the week. His two children are also part of the Harden Unit.
“We have farmers, mechanics, government employees and retirees,” he said. “It’s a diverse range of people.”
Age is also no barrier – the oldest members in the Harden Unit are in their 60s, and its youngest turns 17 in June.
Training is offered to members who attend weekly, or those who maintain their skills and attend only when required.
People interested in joining the NSW State Emergency Service should visit its website for further information.