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Service is in Lizzie's DNA

8 September 2016

Eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Archer knows how to handle herself in an emergency.

With her father, Norm, the local SAES Coordinator for the Hawkesbury and now SAES Director for NSW, ACT and Queensland, Elizabeth has grown up in service to her local community.

“Sometimes I would actually wake up at 4am because mum and dad would be coming in and saying, ‘You’ve got to come with us because there’s a fire and we’ve both got to go and help.’ So I would be sleeping in the truck or in the van or whatever we took – at 4am! Which most 12-year-olds don’t do!”

Other times she would arrive home from school and head straight to a call-out with her parents (it could be a factory fire, missing persons search or bushfire) and not get home until after nine at night, when she would do her homework then help her parents with the meal preparation for the next day’s service. On weekends, you’ll often find her cleaning one of the big food-service trucks the SAES uses to feed emergency service workers and those affected by emergencies and disasters at the front-line.

Elizabeth is no longer compelled to follow in her parents footsteps, yet she has remained a passionate member of the SAES. “I really do love it,” she says. 

“I love being in the truck and cooking a steak sandwich and a hot meal for someone. It does get tiring when you do a couple of days of it ... but in the moment, nothing else really matters. I just get in the zone. You know, these people need us.”

She has been near the firefront of major bushfires on several occasions, serving hundreds of blackened firefighters a warm and nourishing meal before they head back to the frontline. “When we are feeding them they’re really, really grateful for a hot feed,” she says. “Because normally they just get a cold sandwich and a poppa or something that’s not [a real] dinner.

“You can tell that they’ve been working hard. But you know what? They’ve all got smiles on their faces.”

After eight years, Elizabeth has a truckload of stories from her experiences with the SAES. Like the time they almost ran out of food (“lucky my dad always over-caters!”) or the time she saw someone she recognised at a bikie clubhouse police raid (“that was like, weird!”) and the shocking impact of helping with a missing persons search of a person connected with her local church.

A confident, caring young woman, Elizabeth credits her involvement with The Salvation Army’s Emergency Services with opening her eyes to the reality of human need and giving her the maturity to be able to assess a situation before reacting. “And I’ve learned to adapt and just go with the flow,” she adds. “Because when you’re feeding the firies ... things happen very fast and they change hourly. We’re told we’re feeding six but end up feeding 60 or vice-versa.

“I don’t think there’s that many people that can walk away from a situation and feel so needed and so involved in the community that they live in. [Volunteering with the SAES] is so rewarding ... I would definitely encourage people to join.”

Caption: Elizabeth Archer has grown up volunteering for the SAES.

Photo: Adam Hollingworth

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