The Salvation Army Emergency Services (SAES) on average attend an emergency at least once every day of the year. Adam Cole, who has coordinated SAES in Queensland for almost seven years, is passionate about his role.
What is an SAES team?
SAES is about people responding in the event of emergencies to provide assistance to those impacted. All around Australia, in most Salvation Army corps (churches) and centres, we have trained SAES teams of (largely) volunteers who are willing and able to respond in the event of a local emergency. In Queensland, that means supporting firefighters, police, SES, and disaster-affected people, through provision of food and refreshments.
Can you give me an idea of what a large disaster looks like for the SAES?
Significant natural disasters that can occur in Queensland each year include cyclones, floods and fires. Most people typically would associate cyclones as a large disaster, but of late we have had several significant fire events. One recent example of serving was the Atherton fires late last year. Over a three-week period we had volunteers from 14 Salvos SAES teams, who worked 262 volunteer shifts (2,164 volunteer hours) and supplied 4,500 meals and 1,200 refreshments.
Why is it important that the Salvos are involved?
Historically, The Salvation Army has assisted at the frontline of disasters. This means we have been out helping when things are bad, regardless of how inconvenient it is for us at the time. People trust us and invite us to participate.
It also fits our current national Salvation Army vision statement: “Wherever there is hardship or injustice, Salvos will live, love and fight alongside others to transform Australia one life at a time with the love of Jesus.”
I absolutely stand by that vision and that passion to support others with the love of Jesus. I am also a volunteer firefighter myself, so I can easily talk shop with firefighters and others. But I bring something else as well—that extra level of Christian compassion.
And while I’m (and we’re) not there to preach or convert, we are there to genuinely support people through a challenging time to give hope of a better future.
I think it is also about ‘bridge building’, because if individuals need help in the future they often remember that first interaction with Salvos. And to do this we need to be an active participant in our community, not just a part of the community.
Adam Cole, coordinator of SAES in Queensland
We are there to genuinely support people through a challenging time to give hope of a better future.
How does SAES help our community?
To be resourced with the right equipment and people to supply even a simple cup of tea or a meal, to offer that physical connection—sometimes even without words—that lets others know someone is there for them during a tough time.
Sometimes we are feeding evacuees who may be having the worst day of their lives, or emergency workers who have dealt with death or heartbreak that day.
After their shift, the fireys may be black with soot or they may have fought fires in the stifling heat all day, so it is important for them to be able to come back, switch off, grab refreshments and maybe even have a bit of a chat. You hear personal stories and in many cases you go through the journey together.
Do you get much feedback from emergency personnel?
There is always a level of instant gratitude from those we serve (nothing like a meal in an empty tummy), but the things that stick out are the unexpected thanks. While feeding the fire brigade at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, I bumped into a couple of guys I’d met during the 2017 Cyclone Debbie response. One of the firefighters said, “I never got to thank you for what you did.” It’s amazing to know that our seemingly simple act of service can sometimes mean so much to others.
Tell me about your Christian faith.
I am a third-generation Salvo. My walk of faith has been a real journey at times. I had illness (a chronic fatigue-type illness/fibromyalgia) through school and then was not able to get into the workforce for some time. It was hard to keep believing in God over many years of challenges.
In this role, I have seen God’s provision and care so clearly. The right people seem to be in the right place at the right time and even on difficult days encouragement comes from areas that you least expect it to come from. In this role, it has always felt like “God’s got this”.