Our History

Unit Controllers

The Blue Mountains Civil Defence Organisation, as it was known came into being with the appointment of the first Local Controller, Colonel CA (Neil) Strachan, in February 1957. Strachan was an energetic leader who acted quickly to recruit to the key positions and establish links to other community groups like the bush fire brigades and the service and sporting clubs. He was a pioneer of exercising, and the 1961 ‘Operation Picnic’ (which simulated the evacuation of people from a nuclear strike on Sydney and their reception in the Blue Mountains) was the first genuinely large-scale exercise conducted by any unit in the whole organisation in NSW. More than 800 people took part, the 700 ‘evacuees’ being provided by the controllers of several Sydney units and travelling in their cars to Katoomba. On the way ‘decontaminations’ were performed, and when they arrived at their destination they were registered, fed and allocated to mock accommodation. Many other exercises followed, testing transport, welfare, signalling and headquarters arrangements and working on scenarios ranging from bush fires to a collision between a school bus and a low loader carrying a nuclear weapon. A radiation leak was assumed to have occurred.

The Civil Defence Bulletin of October 1963 judged Strachan’s organisation to be among the ‘most consistently progressive and active’ in the state. It was quick to connect to and educate its community, to use the local media outlets, to work out how to manage damage to water supply and other facilities and to be involved in bush fire support. When fires broke out radio relay links were established, first aid was provided and welfare centres were set up to help evacuees. The organisation was a pioneer in many ways: in 1964 it appointed the first female Deputy Local Controller (Margery Anderson) in the state. Anderson eventually became the controller, after Strachan and his successor, Jack Scott. In the mid-1970s, when the SES and the bush fire organisation were merged, the controller was Phil Koperberg.

The Blue Mountains SES began with humble accommodation, using rooms in the council’s offices in Lawson and Katoomba.  It moved its Headquarters from an old circa 1920 army drill hall located in Orient St Katoomba into the current Blue Mountains Emergency Centre at Katoomba in 1994. In 2007, the Unit moved its eastern Blue Mountains facility from an old fire brigade shed at Glenbrook to new custom built facilities in Faulconbridge.  The first vehicles were equally humble. An early rescue truck had part of the floor missing in the cab, and the unit’s first station wagon was made by welding two wrecks together. Another truck had its motor blow up. Today the Unit is spaciously housed and has a fleet of modern vehicles. With more than 100 active members, Local Controller John Hughes has one of the largest SES Units in the state.

The Unit has conducted many major storm and bush fire support responses. The largest storm operation was in July 2011 when strong winds created more than 1,170 tasks within the city. These were completed within six days with help from the two fire services and over 55 SES units from other areas of the State. The unit has itself participated in several major out-of-area flood, storm, bushfire operations and assisted the Police with a number of land search operations across the State. There have been numerous unusual demands on the Blue Mountains SES, the volunteers having been called upon to help with a "submarine" that had sunk in a lake (it was a model), to deal with a woman who had lockjaw and to help a man who thought he had an active volcano under his house (it wasn't actually true). Against these, helping motorists stuck or marooned in snow, loading cargo nets under Black Hawk helicopters and rescuing dogs trapped on cliffs seem almost routine.

Unit Controllers

Controllers of the Blue Mountains SES Unit have been:

1957 – 1965 Colonel CA (Neil) Strachan
1965 - 1967 Jack Scott
1967 - 1971 Margery Jackson
1972 – 1973 Alfred Bennett
1973 – 1976 David Sanson
1977  Phil Koperberg
1978 – 1981 David Sanson
1981 – 1987 Joe Lopez
1987 – 1989 Ken Parsons
1989 – 1991 Kerry Meaker
1991 - 2001 Ken Parsons
2001 – 2002 David Parsons
2002 – 2011 Costa Zakis

2011 – present John Hughes