Lismore City News
Saturday, 2 December 2023

A member of Lismore's 'tinnie flotilla' has sunk the idea of setting up a Community First Responders program

David Kirkpatrick
Updated August 22 2022 - 2:56pm, first published August 18 2022 - 3:19pm

A member of the so called 'boatie brigade' or 'tinnie flotilla' that did so much to save lives during February's flood in Lismore, doesn't believe the idea of community first responders scheme will work.

Members of the tinnie flotilla received special mention in the NSW Flood Inquiry report.
Members of the tinnie flotilla received special mention in the NSW Flood Inquiry report.

Establishing a network of community first responders is one of the key recommendations of the NSW Flood Inquiry.


Co-authors NSW Chief Scientist Mary O'Kane and former NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller produced the report, which was made public on Wednesday, and contains 28 recommendations.

The report identified that 43 citizen rescuers likely provided over 500 volunteer hours and rescued approximately 1,079 people.

"It is clear from personal accounts provided to the Inquiry that community members took on a critical role in both the emergency response and the transition to recovery," the report states.

"Particularly for the Northern Rivers, the Inquiry heard: The Community did not aid in the rescue effort - they led it, forced into emergency response roles and then left to deal with the trauma it has caused."

The boatie brigade or tinnie flotilla, as it became known, swung into action after the local State Emergency Service were swamped by desperate calls for rescue.

Due to a breakdown in the SES's communication system, some 3000 calls when unanswered at the height of the emergency.

A call out for boaties to come forth with their tinnies and help the SES was later rescinded, but by then many were out on the water rescuing people from their roof tops.

Col Baker, one of co-owners of the Lismore Pie Cart, launched his tinnie that fateful day to rescue his daughter and grandkids from the roof of the Lakeside Motel.

He then went on to rescue 20 to 30 other people in desperate situations and has no doubt that without the assistance of boaties in tinnies and other water craft hundreds of people would have died.

"I would categorically state that people would have been dead everywhere if people hadn't gone out in their boats," he said.

"I got four or five people out of house in North Lismore where the water was above their chest.

"In my opinion hundreds of people would have been dead, I am not exaggerating."

Recommendation six of the flood inquiry is to establish a community first responders program to better coordinate community efforts to save life and property during a disaster.

The idea is to fund appropriate community equipment and training, particularly in high risk catchments along the east coast of NSW.

This training would be delivered by combat and/or other appropriate government agencies.

But Col Baker doesn't support the idea of a community first responders program.

"With all the government departments, it will get bogged down in bureaucratic bullshit," he said.

"If you joined they would have to certify you, you'd have to fill in a questionnaire, they'd have to make sure you had well fitted life jackets.

"It would slow the process down dramatically.

"Look at the last five and half months, they haven't made any decisions."

David Kirkpatrick

I'm a media professional with over 34 years of experience in public relations and journalism, including a decade setting Lismore's news agenda as the editor of The Northern Star. I have proven track record in growing audiences and improving engagement by delivering quality local stories for and about the Lismore community.