News State NSW News The local plan to train Lismore’s flotilla of flood rescue tinnies
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The local plan to train Lismore’s flotilla of flood rescue tinnies

Senator Bridget McKenzie was grilled over the government’s flood response by Today host Karl Stefanovic. Source: Nine Network

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A Northern Rivers flood rescue expert wants to train up the community so that people are less dependent on outside help when the next disaster strikes.

Lismore local Phil “Tully” Benfield has spent two decades teaching swift water safety and rescue techniques to emergency services.

He wants to impart that same knowledge on the flotilla of locals in tinnies and jet-skis who stepped up during the recent floods.

“I guarantee that during the next flood, there’s going to be more people out there doing this because they saw what happened last time, and this time, you’re not going to stop them,” he told The New Daily.

Phil Benfield runs a search-and-rescue service in Lismore and wants to train local boat owners. Photo: Supplied

“So it’s a matter of just helping them to do the job better and more safely so we don’t lose any volunteers.”

As soon as the floods hit, Mr Benfield hopped in his 6.2-metre boat and rescued about 100 people, he says.

He was joined by about 100 other locals in their tinnies, Zodiacs, jet-skis and whatever other watercraft they had.

Many of these people braved the dangerous conditions to help others despite having no training.

Mr Benfield, 44, spent 20 years as a police officer and now runs his own independent search-and-rescue service.

He’s trained members of the NSW SES, the VRA (Volunteer Rescue Association), the Rural Fire Service and police rescue teams.

He wants to teach these same people how to read water, how to safely control a boat during flood conditions, and how to rescue themselves if they fall out, among other things.

“It’s all that stuff that people don’t know,” he said.

Phil Benfield (right) says he rescued around 100 people during the recent floods in Lismore.
Phil Benfield (right) says he rescued about 100 people during the recent floods in Lismore. Photo: Supplied

Keeping it in the community

The civilian response to the floods was a lifesaver this month.

Some residents of flood-affected areas blamed the SES for having too few boats and becoming overwhelmed by demand.

“Lismore itself has at least seven boats and we have sent more boats from surrounding areas to help,” SES commissioner Carlene York said at the time.

“The difficulty being, it has been at night. Sending some of the boats out when the rivers are raging and it can be quite dangerous for our rescuers and we don’t want to put our volunteers’ lives at risk.”

The SES confirmed toTND it had received more than 860 flood rescue requests from the Lismore area during the current floods.

Small, privately-owned boats played a major role in Lismore’s flood response. Photo: AAP

Lismore locals previously told TND that many water rescues were made by locals in their own boats, not emergency services.

Mr Benfield wants to harness this existing capacity in the community.

“There’s more efficient ways of training people up,” he said.

That includes teaming up with other organisations in the area to cover topics like equipment and insurance, and charging $100 per person to cover the costs of the training.

The community response has been enthusiastic so far, with news of Mr Benfield’s idea going viral around Northern Rivers Facebook groups.

The first training session is due for the first weekend of April.