Leon’s many safety hats

Tari JeffersManjimup-Bridgetown Times
DFES natural hazards district officer Leon Gardiner found his calling through his more than decade-long service with the Pemberton St John Ambulance and Manjiup SES.
Camera IconDFES natural hazards district officer Leon Gardiner found his calling through his more than decade-long service with the Pemberton St John Ambulance and Manjiup SES. Credit: Tari Jeffers

He is a man of many hats, but the one thing all his roles have in common is the betterment of the community and its safety.

Pemberton man Leon Gardiner works for the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and is also a volunteer for the State Emergency Services and St John Ambulance.

As a volunteer and in his career, Leon said he liked to keep busy and help the community.

“I can’t sit still, I’ve got to keep doing stuff,” he said.

In his job as the Lower South West DFES natural hazards officer, which he began in 2011, Leon’s responsibilities include overseeing seven State Emergency Services units in the South West.

The units he looks after are Manjimup, Donnybrook, Bridgetown, Walpole, Nannup, Busselton and Margaret River.

“There’s been some really good things about coming into the job because there were things I wanted to do as a volunteer that my previous employment in hospitality just didn’t allow because of my work hours,” he said.

“I could not always get on the courses or do things as quickly as I wanted to, such as a leadership course or a team leader course.

“But getting into this job, because it directly related to and supported the role, you can then explore some of those opportunities.”

With both a career and volunteering background in emergency services, Leon said he was passionate about volunteers being utilised to their best ability.

“Whilst we have an organisation of paid people, whether that be St John or DFES, the skills, the knowledge and the abilities that volunteers bring to the table, is something I think we sometimes overlook a little bit,” he said. “We need to do more, not really to recognise it, but to embrace it and to use it.”

One such example was last year where SES volunteers were taken to Perth for a simulated exercise on storm impact and the volunteers were put into positions they had never been in before.

Leon acknowledged the volunteers were put under the pump, but at the other end of the exercise, he explained it was to show them what they were capable of.

“I can see that in the region, we have a fantastic group of volunteers that have the ability to stand up and be counted and fill some of these roles that traditionally might be focused towards staff,” he said.

Leon began his journey to his job with DFES 13 years ago when people from work asked if he wanted to get along to a St John Ambulance meeting in Pemberton.

He moved to the region in 2003, where he began working at Karri Valley Resort in the activities department.

He was only 19 when he started up with St John Ambulance and today is the chairman of the sub-centre.

It was there he found he really enjoyed giving back to the community.

His dedication to volunteering has also seen him last month be admitted into the Order of St John, to recognise his achievements in the volunteering space.

Leon remains a dedicated St John Ambulance volunteer to this day, while his main contribution to the SES is mainly through his work.

“I’m just doing what anybody should do, which is do something for their community,” he said.

“Some people do it for sports and a range of other ways, I just happen to do it for St John Ambulance.”

After about a year with St John Ambulance, Leon started volunteering with the SES in Manjimup when a friend suggested they go to a meeting together.

While his friend fell away from SES, Leon continued on with the SES and ambulance.

He said he enjoyed improving his skill sets in both emergency services.

Through his volunteering with the SES, he took on a team leadership role and then became training manager for the Manjimup unit.

It was the pleasure he got in seeing someone thrive in training that set him onto his path to work for DFES.

“That buzz and excitement you get from seeing someone grow and develop over a two-day period, to then have them get further involved in the SES is great,” Leon said.

He encouraged anyone who had ever even thought about volunteering, to give it a try, as it gave back to the community, helped develop skills and built friendships.

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