Volunteer Profile: Michael Henderson

Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter volunteer crewperson Michael Henderson is looking forward to the new season, which will again see him working with a pilot and dispatcher on patrol from Waratah to Apollo Bay, as well as providing valuable back-up support for other state emergencies and search and rescue (SAR) operations.

As the John Wishart medal winner and Victorian Life Saver of the Year (2016) he’s well-equipped to keep us safe over summer. Here’s his lifesaving story and you can support his valiant effort for Movember, as part of the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter crew’s attempt to outdo the helicopter’s moustache, here.

Volunteer Roles:

  • Club Captain
  • Rescue Crew – Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service
  • Patrol Vice-Captain

Current Club: Fairhaven SLSC

How long have you been involved in surf lifesaving?

I first started as a nipper during the 1999/2000 season, but began patrolling in 2007 after attaining my Surf Rescue Certificate.

What made you become involved in surf lifesaving?

Originally, like a lot of other people, I began my involvement in Surf Lifesaving through my parents, who decided to sign my twin sister and I up for nippers in order to learn water safety skills at the beach. From that starting point, I gained a love for the ocean, alongside meeting a huge number of like-minded people, which ultimately led to my involvement continuing to grow!

What are some of your responsibilities at your club?

As the Club Captain, the majority of my responsibilities are related to the active membership and how patrols operate, as well as the general management of the gear and equipment at Fairhaven. We have a sensational team at the club, which allows us to spread that workload as much as possible, but it also means that any required tasks are performed to a high standard. On a broader level, I like to get involved in as many club activities as possible, whether that means instructing awards, helping out with nippers or trying my hand at the sport side of things – it just helps to get a feel for all the areas of Surf Lifesaving that people can get involved with.

What do you enjoy most about lifesaving?

Definitely the people who are involved. No matter what your interests and motivations are, there is guaranteed to be someone else within the club, or even on a broader level, who shares those sentiments. It’s also just the fact that everyone has a common goal in seeking to increase safety at the beach and around water generally, which I think creates a really unique community.

How do you encourage others to get involved with lifesaving and volunteering?

Most of all it’s about creating a culture that is not only welcoming, but also encourages people to keep active and involved once they have made their first steps. Encouraging people to get down and try something out is a much easier process when they can see that there are good people involved, and that it is a friendly community. More often than not, if people get a good first impression and they feel like they are contributing to a positive cause they will continue to be actively involved.

What is your greatest achievement in Surf Lifesaving so far?

Winning the John Wishart medal as Victorian Life Saver of the Year in 2016 is probably the achievement I am most proud of. I really wasn’t expecting to win the award, but I guess it was recognition for a fair bit of hard work that goes in behind the scenes and out of the public view.

You are a Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter crewmember. Please tell us about this role and what inspired you to take this path.

I am currently a Rescue Crewperson, which means that I work on a given shift with a Pilot and a Dispatcher. Both the Dispatchers and Rescue Crew within the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service are volunteer lifesavers from around the State, and our main patrols operate between Waratah Beach and Apollo Bay. Generally, the tasks of the crew include surveying the waterways around the coast for people in distress or difficulty, searching for marine life near beach populations, conducting searches, and performing rescue operations.

The major reason I was inspired to apply and join the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service was that I saw it as the next step in improving my operational skills, after spending a number of seasons patrolling the beach. At the time that I applied, there was also no other member from my club in the service, so I saw it as somewhat of a challenge in order to demonstrate the preparation and support that I had received in earlier years. Overall, it served as a pretty significant goal for me, and I was motivated to train as hard as possible in order to gain selection. Luckily, I was able to do so, and I have enjoyed every minute since then!

What types of rescues have you been involved in as a crewmember?

So far, I have been lucky not to be involved in a rescue, and have been able to manage any potentially hazardous scenarios through preventative actions and other measures, much like how Surf Lifesavers on the beach would approach these scenarios. We do a significant amount of training for all types of rescues and patient conditions as part of the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service, so everyone is prepared when the time comes to execute their role. However, at the end of the day safety is always the primary concern, and so it is important to understand and explore all possible courses of action when faced with any set of circumstances.

What’s been the most surprising part of being a Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter crewmember?

I’m not sure if it was particularly surprising, however it has been extremely interesting to see how much work goes into ensuring that the service operates efficiently at all times. It is similar to a lot of things, but you only really get a true idea of how things work once you become involved with them, and it has been a real pleasure to be a part of such a fantastic team and a great organisation.

When you’re not Surf Lifesaving, what keeps you busy?

During the main summer period, I work as a Lifeguard for the Australian Lifeguard Service, both on the beach as well as Rescue Water Craft (Jet Ski) patrols, as well as completing my volunteer duties at Fairhaven SLSC. Outside of those times I am studying a double-degree of Arts and Law at Monash University.

What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?

I had the pleasure of listening to Tom Harley speak at the SLSA National Leadership College earlier this year, and the one idea that stuck with me the most was: “the standard you walk by is the standard you accept.”

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