The Mud Army was the name given to all the residents of Brisbane city who participated in the flood clean-up operations in 2011. This personal experience inspired me towards an incredible journey, culminating in my first exercise as a team leader with the Queensland State Emergency Service in September of this year.

During the Brisbane floods of 2011, the Brisbane council invited the residents of the river city to participate in a local one-off clean-up operation. It consisted of setting up a number of 'activation' centres where on a single Saturday, you could turn up, register and help with the flood clean-up operation.

The council and members of the Queensland State Emergency Service organised the sign-on registers, amenities and laid on buses to ensure that volunteers were safely driven to the affected areas and then driven out.

Make no mistake, these areas were dangerous. Roadways covered in thick, black, toxic, smelly mud. Damaged goods laid at the side of the road to rot in the heat: sodden mattresses, splintered wood and piles of plasterboard permeate my memories.

The pungent smell of the river was everywhere. And affected locals in varying states of mind: some were glad of the help, most just wanted to be left alone to clean-up and a small minority a little unpredictable, irritable and angry.

All this was part of the brief on the bus ride to the affected area. We were armed with our own tools that we all had in our backyards: brooms, buckets, garden tools and most importantly a desire to make difference.

After a second stint on the Southside of Brisbane, helping some of the worst affected local residents in Chelmer, I decided this volunteering was definitely for me. So I set about joining the Qld State Emergency Service (SES) in Brisbane.

After sitting on a waiting list for more than nine months, an email came out of the blue stating that I had been selected for training in the next intake. I was really excited.

The basic training was an incredible experience. From learning how to use the emergency lighting rigs all the way through to learning my 15 knots, and in between we learnt about:

  • Risk assessments in disaster situations.
  • How to safely evacuate casualties, using stretchers, ropes and teamwork.
  • The basics of fire fighting.
  • Theory and practice around dealing with fallen powerlines.

Even some really cool tricks/techniques for erecting ladders in challenging situations. All this in six months...and then we only knew the basics. Which meant that once we had passed all the training and received our orange uniforms, we could then go out on an 'activiation' under supervision.

I've now been with the SES for over two years and training has never eased up. I decided to specialise in storm operations which means that my training to date has included:

  • Theory and practice in preparing, working and clearing up environments due to storm, flood and heavy rain.
  • The ability to setup a height safety kit and operate within a height safety team.
  • Practical first aid and CPR.
  • Skills in the art of temporary repairs to structures, such as residential houses who have suffered storm damage.
  • Operating two-way radios.
  • Understanding how to plan, provision and manage resources for emergency evacuation centres.

On top the training I've been activated six times. The most memorable being the hail storms that hit the south west suburbs of Brisbane in late 2012. Lots of dented cars, broken skylights and very relieved faces when we arrived to help clean up. It was a two-day job in the blistering 35 degree heat. One activation even including marshalling runners and preventing cars from entering the race exclusion zones in the City2South Running event.

The biggest learning from my volunteering activities is that you get so much more out of volunteering, than you can possibly put back in. Even when I put 110 per cent in, I get 150 per cent back.

If you really want to make a difference - VOLUNTEER in something you truly believe in.

Now...circling back to my previous blog post, I did promise to include my exploits with stand-up comedian and big data visionary Gary Jackson. Looks like it will have to wait until next month. Maybe in my next blog... stay tooned!

About the author

Paul Colmer is Chief Architect for the CSC MyWorkStyle offerings, Fellow of the BCS and Fellow of the London College of Music, State Emergency Service Volunteer and a Music Composer based in Brisbane, Australia. His areas of expertise and passion include cloud systems, big data / analytics, meterology, music composition / orchestration and storm damage operations.