UNLIKE her mates, a big night out for Emily Stubbs means pulling people from the wreckage of a car crash.
Ms Stubbs, 24, has been a member of the Victoria State Emergency Service's Knox road rescue unit for two years and is trained to use the jaws of life to cut people out of their cars.
The SES remains one of the key agencies for emergency management during storms, floods and other natural disasters. Storm damage due to trees falling through homes and on power lines is a key aspect of what they do, especially in Melbourne's eastern and south-eastern suburbs.
It's an unpredictable job and the volunteers never know what they'll have to do on the nights they're on call. Some weeks there are no jobs and on others they get "slammed" with a board full of emergencies.
"Sometimes you can look at the weather so you know that they might come, but being in a road rescue unit that's something you can never predict," she says.
Ms Stubbs signed up with the SES in 2010, her third year of law school. Joining the service has almost become a family tradition — her brother was a member of the Knox unit more than a decade ago.
"He loved it. When I went down there, everyone still remembered him and he made a good name for himself."
The flexibility of the SES meant that Ms Stubbs was easily able to juggle rescuing people with civil torts. She had afternoon classes so late nights with the service didn't bother her. "If I had a big night out with the SES then I would usually get a sleep in."
And when she starts work at a law firm, she has no doubts she'll be able to continue saving people. "There are two other lawyers down at my unit and they manage to do it."
Ms Stubbs has had to make some lifestyle changes, especially around her social activities.
"I'm pretty lucky that most of my friends live in the Knox area, but I've had some who have moved out. So trying to catch up with them, it can only be on the two weeks I'm not on call or I have to convince them to come to the Knox area."
Whenever she goes out to dinner, she lets her friends know she might have to leave with a second of notice and she doesn't go to the movies when she's on call. "That's the one thing I don't want have to be called out of."
Other times she's had to leave coffee with friends or a full trolley in the supermarket after he pager goes off.
But despite the social upheaval, Ms Stubbs sees herself being with the SES for years to come.
"I've made some great friends down there. I've really enjoyed it and I want to keep learning more. And there's the satisfaction of knowing that you've helped someone else or made your community safe."
For Vaughan Wright, it's the people — in and out of the SES — who drive him to continue volunteering, even though sleep is a precious commodity.
In addition to his day job with Victoria Police, Mr Wright has been part of Waverley SES for 11 years. As a deputy controller, he pours hours of work into the SES every week to make sure the people of Monash have a port of call when disaster strikes.
It can be difficult, especially when he's rostered on the night shift with the police, but he continues to give up his free time. "I still like the work," Mr Wright says. "There's some good people at SES. I've made some good friendships out of it."
But at times, there's still some confusion about what the SES does. "The community still sort of doesn't understand a lot of what the SES do and there are a lot of police out there who know we exist but not what we can and can't do.
"We still get the odd person who thinks that if a tree's sitting on their front lawn, you'll cut it up and take it away whereas it's not really our role because it hasn't damaged anything; it doesn't pose a risk to anyone."
But while active members like Mr Wright and Ms Stubbs are the face of the SES in the community, it's the work of non-operational officers like Keith Grant that ensures everything runs smoothly in the background.
Mr Grant is in operations support and community education at Narre Warren SES, where he plots jobs and makes sure everyone has regular rest breaks.
He joined the SES shortly after his marriage ended about five years ago. "I figured it was the time to get back into something and put back into the community," he says. "We find people are very appreciative of the time we put in."
Like everyone else, he did the first 10 weeks of basic training where he learnt how to tie knots, operate generators and safely use ladders.
"I was a week away from the actual assessment and they decided because of the weight problem I had, it may be better from an OH&S perspective if I wasn't made operational. So they offered me an operational support role instead.
"I love it. I still get a buzz out of it because I know that what I'm doing is actually helping them outside in the rain and sleet and the trucks.
He's hoping to get back to the job's operational component. "I still need to lose a bit more of the tummy, shall we say," he laughs. "It will happen one day."
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