Operation ELLIOT Mission Commander Davina Pye spoke with Radio National Breakfast this morning 13th April, 2021. Fran Kelly and Davina discussed the Mid North Coast Floods and how Disaster Relief Australia has deployed veteran volunteers to assist with vital flood recovery in the region.

Listen: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/veterans-help-nsw-communities-with-flood-clean-up/13300270

Pictured: MC Davina Pye and the DRA incident management team on the ground in North Haven booking cleanup jobs for flood affected residents.

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flood recovery in mid north

Read the interview

Fran Kelly:
Our war veterans spend years helping people from other countries in times of natural disasters or war. This week, many of them will travel to the mid north coast of New South Wales for something called Operation Elliott, a flood recovery mission by the not for profit group Disaster Relief Australia. The aim is to help rebuild the area after the floods where at least 75 homes were lost in last month’s extreme weather event.

Davina Pye is a veteran and a firefighter with Fire and Rescue New South Wales. She’s the mission commander for Wave 1 of operation ELLIOT. Davina Pye, welcome.

Davina Pye:
Thank you, Fran. great to be here.

Fran Kelly:
What is operation ELLIOT and how many veterans are involved?

Davina Pye:
Operation ELLIOT is a flood recovery mission for the mid north coast in the Port Macquarie Hastings area that was heavily affected during the floods between the 19th and the 25th of March. We’ve currently got 20 veterans on the ground. Disaster Relief Australia unites military veterans, first responders and like minded civilians who want to help people out in emergency situations. We’ve been together for 5 years, formerly known as Team Rubicon Australia and now rebranded to Disaster Relief Australia. We’ve assisted at many disaster sites around Australia and are currently in the Perth hills on Operation Woods providing fire recovery, and now here in the Camden Haven region doing flood recovery.

Fran Kelly:
Is it a volunteer operation or are the veterans and first responders paid to do this work?

Davina Pye:
It’s all volunteer. We have retirees and people still currently working that take leave. They have such a passion for this type of work and for doing something for the community that they take the time off.

Fran Kelly:
Tell me about the passion. Let’s talk about the Veterans first because a lot of vets come home and it’s hard for them, we know because we’ve talked to quite a few here on breakfast and we know that they find it hard to settle in, they find it hard either because of what they’ve experienced over there, or because of the changing situation they find themselves in. Why is is important?

Davina Pye:
It gives them a connection, not only to the other veterans they’re working with, but also to the communities that they’re participating in the recovery for. They care. What they were able to do overseas for another country, they can now do at home.

Fran Kelly:
Is it significant that they get to use the skills they were trained for? What is your experience Davina, when did you serve?

Davina Pye:

I can speak for myself. That feeling of being able to help someone on their worst day and make it just that little bit better is amazing. I was a medic with the Australian Army for 11 years, I deployed to Papua New Guinea for tidal wave relief in 98, East Timor in 99, and Bougainville in 2002.

Fran Kelly:
And in those places as a medic, you helped people on the ground who were recovering from difficult situations?

Davina Pye:
Absolutely. Especially in Papua New Guinea after the tidal wave. We were treating people for two weeks through the first surgical response, in the first 24 hours they did something like 16 amputations from wounds received.

Fran Kelly:
When you come home, when you finish the service, and you’re not an Army medic anymore, is it hard to figure out how to fit back into a community and do a regular job? How does the work you’re doing here with Disaster Relief Australia help with that?

Davina Pye:
The military is very different to anything that you would do usually. You talk a certain way, act a certain way, and to turn that off, it takes a long time – you probably never do. After doing deployments overseas, you’re at a bit of a loss. You no longer have the importance of job roles so to be able to do that sort of thing again here in Australia – it really makes you feel connected again.

Fran Kelly:
You were a firefighter after that right?

Davina Pye:
Yes, that’s correct for 14 years now.

Fran Kelly:
How’s the community in Port Macquarie, responding to you and others being on the ground there with Operation ELLIOT?

Davina Pye:
Wonderful. They have been so supportive. From the residents that have been affected through to the councils that are trying to help, we’ve been invited by the mayor as soon as we got here to bring a team in. The community has been reaching out and they’re telling us their stories and asking for help or passing on their neighbors names that they know need help as well. It’s been a wonderful welcome.

Fran Kelly:
What is the effort required on the ground, how many are there on the ground as part of this operation?

Davina Pye:
At the moment there are 20 people. There’s veterans, veterans that are now first responders, first responders that are reserve. We’re getting out and we’re mucking out houses, most of the mud is gone already, but there is furniture to remove and walls that need to be pulled down and sprayed with anti mold.

We’re communicating with residents and just allowing them to tell their story and feel that they’ve been recognized and understood that they’re still there. There’s people that either don’t have the means of reaching out through not having mobile phone communications or don’t have vehicles to be able to get into the recovery centers – these are the type of people that we’re picking up on.

Fran Kelly:
The people who are stuck on properties, who might not have cell phones, who are isolated, how are you finding out about them? What are you doing for them?

Davina Pye:
We’re finding out through word of mouth, we’re finding out through their neighbors, they are getting passed on through the recovery centers and their hotlines – they feed the information to us. We then go out and do a damage assessment, we look and make a decision on whether it’s within our scope of practice. We can’t do everything, landslips and bridges washed out are outside our work. We have a very skilled workforce that can come in and help clear fences, pull out furniture, cut out trees over fence lines.

Fran Kelly:
Some of the some of the people that you’re working with in the operation will have issues of their own, and yet they’re hearing pretty traumatic stories from community members. I imagine people are pretty distressed there. You have a moment at the end of the day called reflections, can you tell me about that?

Davina Pye:
Reflections give the team the opportunity to share what they saw. In what way it affected them or what way that they oversaw a positive or a negative safety situation that they saw was managed well or wasn’t managed well. It’s a really good debrief, to hear other people’s stories and how they saw it and know that it’s okay to share that story and to participate in a reflection that could help each other through the day’s activities,

Fran Kelly:
That’s an interesting strategy, it’s an interesting sort of mechanism to use. Where did that come from that idea of the end of day debrief called reflections.

Davina Pye:
The actual story of how it came about, I’m not sure but I know we do it in Fire and Rescue New South Wales. We call it a ‘casual’ or debrief.  At the end of a job or difficult job that you’ve seen – to be able to feel that you can talk to each other about it and what you saw, or what you did, what you did well or what you did poorly, what you could do better next time, it is used to help.

Fran Kelly:
Good luck to you and the whole team there of operation ELLIOT for the cleanup and of course the people of Port Macquarie who need all the help they can get.

Davina Pye:
Thank you – homeowners can call us on (02) 9158 9382 or else go to disasterreliefaus.org/nswfloods.