IT is the end of an era for Whitfords Volunteer Sea Rescue Group.
After more than 40 years, the largest sea rescue group in WA has been gazetted to the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.
It is the last of the 30 groups across WA to join DFES, with the change taking effect on July 1.
Commander Ron Harris, who was elected to the post at the end of March, said making the move from being the only independent sea rescue group was not all smooth sailing.
“It took quite a bit of organisation. Some of the older members were keen to keep our autonomy,” he said.
He said the group set up a website where members could ask questions about DFES and what the change would mean.
The group then held a special general meeting where members could voice their opinions before voting in a secret ballot.
“We had about six or seven speak for the move and four or five speak against. The vote went through about 75-25,” Cdr Harris said.
He said while the move would not change the day-to-day running of the 24/7 volunteers’ sea rescue service, it would make a “big difference” to the group’s financial situation.
“We do get grants from the City of Joondalup and the State Government but it’s not much,” he said.
“Now DFES will pay for fuel and maintenance and help with new boats and equipment; before we had to pay for all that ourselves.
“It will give us more access to training because DFES will supply instructors to come out. They can also help with our communications and radios by sending a tech person out to assess our system.”
“Our constitution needs a revamp and now DFES can help with that.”
He said there was also the benefit of having better access to counselling services.
“We were involved in the recent shark attack at Mindarie, which was horrific for the crew,” Cdr Harris said.
“I arranged counselling but now it will be available on-the-spot through DFES, which is important for traumatic incidents.”
He said it was a win-win situation.
“We are still our own unit, but we have the assistance if we need it,” he said.
“The building is still under our control and the vessels are ours to do what we want with and run how we want to.”
“It will just make our operations easier and more efficient.”
Cdr Harris said last year the group conducted about 170 rescues, bringing about 450 people to shore.
People of all age groups are encouraged to join, with training provided.
For more information, go to www.whitfordssearescue.org.au.