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For over 40 years, one man’s career has been defined by helping others

27 June 2022

For over 40 years, one man’s career has been defined by helping others

South Australia’s Jim Debnam takes enormous pride in donning his orange uniform and helping his community through the South Coast unit of the SASES.

Jim has been on the frontline for as long as he can remember, beginning  his career serving in the military before making the transition to the police force for 17 years. Now semi-retired and living in Port Elliot on the Fleurieu Peninsula, Jim is once again happily helping others.

Whether it’s a storm or flood operation, road crash rescue or a land search, SASES volunteers like Jim don’t hesitate to answer the call for help, even when it comes from well beyond the borders of South Australia.

Earlier this year, the veteran of help didn’t think twice about heading to the town of Lismore in the heart of the Northern Rivers in NSW, as the residents faced an unprecedented natural disaster.

Q1. Why did you join the SASES?

I grew up in the world of cadets and then joined the military before spending 17 years as a police officer.

I have been with the SASES South Coast unit for about three years after entering semi-retirement. That gave me the time to become more involved in the community. I’ve always been assisting others, so it felt like an extension of the things I’ve done in the past.

I’ve always enjoyed helping people out and I wanted to continue to do that.
Jim Debnam

Q2. How did it feel being called for help during the flood crisis in Lismore in northern NSW?

It was extremely confronting to see the amount of damage and long-term hardship that a lot of people in Lismore are going through. Many people have lost everything, and a significant number of houses are going to be demolished. These people have not only lost all their possessions, but sooner or later, some are actually going to lose their house as well.

My first role in Lismore was community liaison. There was a team of us going from house-to-house to check up on the residents. We had to let people know where they could get help  and make sure they were getting the right information and assistance.

We were treated really, really well and everyone appreciated the fact we'd come such a long way to help them and the local NSW SES.

We were filled with a sense of pride that our support extended beyond our state borders, and we were able to help people in NSW.

Q3. What’s the most rewarding aspect of volunteering for the SASES?

Making a difference in people's lives. And that was evident in Lismore. Just going around talking to people in flood-affected communities, they just wanted a smile and a hello and reassurance they had support, particularly elderly and vulnerable people.

They were very thankful for knock on the door and relieved that someone was still checking up on them.

Q4. What message would you give to someone thinking about volunteering?

Not everyone is going to ride on a truck or climb up on a roof in the pouring rain and howling wind to fix something. But people can volunteer and help in so many ways from administration to being on the road.  

Find out how you can help in your community, and you’ll make a difference to someone’s life. I think it’s so important to get involved and volunteer no matter what it is.

NRMA Insurance is now proud partners of SASES. Find more information on joining the SASES as a volunteer here


Story of Help
South Australia