FINAL PLEA: Departing unit controller George Smart and his wife and deputy controller Lyn have thrown their support behind the towns fire brigade to become community first responders.
FINAL PLEA: Departing unit controller George Smart and his wife and deputy controller Lyn have thrown their support behind the towns fire brigade to become community first responders. Marc Stapelberg

End of an era leaves flood-prone town vulnerable

TWO State Emergency Service stalwarts have amplified Coraki's plea for a vital service as they prepare to hang up their uniforms after more than a combined 50 years of volunteering.

Departing unit controller George Smart and his wife and deputy controller Lyn have thrown their support behind the town's fire brigade to become Community First Responders.

The need for first responders has reached a critical point with no hospital, no ambulance station and no specialised SES volunteers to take on the demanding task, which enables firefighters to be called first and to treat at life-threatening incidents along with paramedics.

"Too many things can go wrong in a small community without the proper equipment to handle it in the first instance," he said.

He said in the event of a heart attack, to wait 30 minutes for the nearest ambulance to come from Lismore or Evans Head could be life-threatening.

But he said said firefighters becoming first responders may not be the perfect solution, fearing the brigade's resources may be dangerously stretched if called to an incident like a heart attack and a fire simultaneously.

Since 2010, the Coraki SES unit lost its capability to maintain its first responders as the unit struggles with the on-going challenge to recruit and retain volunteers.

Membership has dropped from 16 members to nine in the past six months, Mr Smart said. By next February, that number will drop to seven when Mr and Mrs Smart retire.

But the pair hope that the regional headquarters will be able to find successors to step up and into their important roles.

Richmond Tweed SES regional controller, Mark Somers said recruiting the unit controller and the deputy position were among his top priorities for the new year.

If the positions cannot be filled, Mr Somers said Coraki would operate under a 'hub and spoke' model where the Coraki unit would be supported by the Lismore City unit.

But Mr Smart said "no way that will ever happen" with concerns "helicoptering members out here from Lismore" would not be sufficient in protecting the community during major floods.

"When we get cut off we get cut off," Mr Smart said.

His ailing health forced Mr Smart to retire from service after what will be 30 years of service in February.

Driving the boats during the March flood response served as a highlight of Mr Smart's career.

He helped grow the unit from its headquarters in the 80s based on the verandah of a fellow volunteer's home to its new home on Adam Street.

Being awarded an Order of Australia for her volunteering and working with various volunteers over the years has been the biggest honour for Mrs Smart.

"I just find no matter what we are doing, working with the volunteers who come in and out of this service is a highlight of my life," she said.

Mr Somers said the pair's "phenomenal" service was "incredible in this day and age of struggling volunteers" and wished the pair the best as they enter retirement.

The pair look forward watching on as the unit enters a new era.



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