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Australians seek BC3 prof’s expertise amid historic flooding

Chris Calhoun, right, coordinator of Butler County Community College’s park and recreation management associate degree program, and Anthony Wallgate, travel the flood-swollen Shoalhaven River in Australia on Saturday, Nov. 5. Wallgate is the leading aviation officer with the New South Wales State Emergency Service. Submitted photo

Butler County Community College professor Chris Calhoun, who serves as a rescue technician with the Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team, will help educate and train first responders amid historic flooding in Australia.

The Butler resident demonstrated paddling skills and paddle-craft rescue tactics, and recorded presentations about water-rescue instruction and water dynamics for emergency services trainers in New South Wales, which the Australian national flood-rescue symposia will use.

“My expertise is teaching people how to facilitate and hone skills so they are proficient when they go out there,” said Calhoun, coordinator of BC3’s park and recreation management associate degree program. “That’s probably one of the reasons I was asked to go.”

Calhoun has also authored the water-rescue curriculum for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

The volunteer New South Wales State Emergency Service has about 9,000 members whose major responsibilities are responding to flood and storm emergencies, Calhoun said.

The paid Fire and Rescue New South Wales is the busiest in Australia, he said, and one of the world’s largest urban fire and rescue services.

“A lot of times in the outlying rural areas, it’s not departments,” Calhoun said. “It’s volunteers.”

In one 24-hour period in November, New South Wales State Emergency Service performed 222 flood rescues and received 909 requests for help, Sky News reported.

The Associated Press reported in November that “a rare third consecutive La Nina weather pattern, which is associated with above-average rainfall in eastern Australia, has created a flooding emergency across large swathes of New South Wales that has lasted for two months.”

“They’re not recovering,” Calhoun said. “They’re still engaged and will be for a significant period of time. That’s how big the problem is. To my understanding, this is some of the worst flooding that they have had in Australia.”

New South Wales State Emergency Service began in 1955 in response to extensive flooding, according to the organization’s 2020-2021 annual report. Many emergency response plans are initially developed following incidents that caused catastrophic damage, Calhoun said.

“And first responders went out unprepared,” he said. “People died. Responders died. So all of a sudden there is a high emphasis on ‘What are we going to do?’ and ‘How are we going to develop training?’”

Calhoun was asked to record podcasts that will be used to educate trainers.

“The power of water is relentless,” Calhoun said. “A lot of people underestimate that power. If you are not 100% focused on what is going on, you can get yourself in serious trouble.”

Calhoun, who also serves with the Butler County Water Rescue Team 300, conducted trainings for New South Wales State Emergency Service representatives at Penrith Whitewater Stadium, Sydney, the site of the 2000 Olympics.

Chris Calhoun, left, and Shannon Crofton practice a maneuver to transition from calmer water into the current at Penrith Whitewater Stadium, Sydney, Australia, on Friday, Nov. 4. Crofton is a station officer and volunteer flood-rescue instructor with the New South Wales State Emergency Service. Calhoun’s expertise was sought by Australian authorities in November and will be used in the country’s national flood-rescue symposia. Submitted Photo

Bill Foley is coordinator of news and media content at Butler County Community College.

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