Remembering Rhys Maggs AM

A message from our Chief Officer Operations

Dear members,

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you that former VICSES member Rhys Maggs AM passed away late Tuesday afternoon, with his immediate family at his side after a brave battle with cancer in recent years. Rhys served as State Director of VICSES from May 1987 to August 2005, and played an instrumental role in the organisation’s history.

On behalf of all the VICSES members I convey our deepest condolences and sympathies to his wife Lillian, his son Robert and daughter Caroline and their wider family.

Positioned as the State Director, the equivalent of our current Chief Executive Officer and Chief Officer Operations roles, Rhys served under six different Ministers for Police and Emergency Services: The Honourable Mal Sandon, Pat McNamara, Bill McGrath, Andre Haermeyer, Tim Holding and Bob Cameron.

Throughout his service with VICSES, Rhys consistently advocated to government for VICSES to stand as an outright emergency service, rather than just a business unit within the Department of Justice. This was achieved through VICSES being recognised as an emergency service under the Road Safety Act in 1992, enabling red and blue flashing lights to be used on our vehicles. More significantly, Rhys advocated for VICSES to become a Statutory Authority, which as achieved in 2005 at which point, Rhys retired from the service.

During his career Rhys led numerous large scale emergencies, including the record breaking floods in North East Region in 1993, and the large storm events across South West Region in 1995. It was not unusual for Rhys to answer emergency requests for assistance from the public himself, which up until late 1995 were taken at our VICSES Victorian Head Office. In 2002, Rhys led the VICSES response in support of Victoria Police for the widespread ‘White Powder’ outbreaks.

Rhys understood the funding challenges faced by VICSES, and considered alternate funding mechanisms. This included securing significant sponsorship from RACV Insurance, which set the bar for sponsorship rights and joint badging on uniforms and vehicles. This set the foundation for continued sponsorship with our current Principle Community Partner AAMI. 

Prior to 1987, VICSES volunteers were using second or third hand vehicles that were over 20 years old and potentially dangerous. Rhys led the reforms that saw every VICSES unit receive a state-plated purpose designed vehicle. The difference between the vehicle fleet of 1987 and post 2005 is a significant legacy in itself.

Rhys was a leader in promoting the highest of standards and practice in Road Crash Rescue (RCR), with a focus on reducing the impact to community members trapped in vehicles. Rhys’ legacy saw every RCR unit issued with vital hydraulic rescue equipment, rather than having to purchase their own jaws of life and face exhaustive local fundraising efforts to get by. His leadership around RCR put VICSES on the map as a leader in its practice as the largest provider in Australia. Rhys led the formation of the Australian National Road Accident Rescue Association (ANRARA) in 1996, and was fundamental in broadening the focus of ANRARA to be renamed the Australasian Road Rescue Organisation (ARRO) in 2003.

As the President of the World Rescue Organisation (WRO) for a short period of time, Rhys later had ARRO accepted into membership of the WRO, and sought sponsorship to enable our first VICSES volunteer rescue team to compete overseas in the World Extrication Challenge. Under his leadership of ARRO, this saw VICSES host the first Australasian Road Crash Rescue Challenge, involving international teams called Rescue Down Under and later iRescue (Cutting Edge) in 2010, where Rhys was still involved with ARRO in his retirement.

Alongside these revered roles and accomplishments, Rhys was also the inaugural Chair of the Australian Council of State Emergency Services (ACSES) when it was established in 2002. The various Directors of SES agencies across each Australian state and territory recognised that a collaborative national approach would be required if the value of their services to the community was to be maximised. Rhys represented ACSES on the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Council (AFAC) until all SES agencies became members in their own right. Rhys was also the representative of AFAC on the Commonwealth Productivity Commission for several years.

Passionate about all-things volunteering, Rhys regularly travelled across the state to ensure that volunteers received due recognition for the role they play in their communities. In doing so he oversaw the development of the VICSES Long Service Medal within the national honours and awards, which now play a centre role in annual recognition of volunteers across the service.

Rhys received many accolades during his service to community, including being awarded the Centenary Medal in January 2001 for “service to the community as Director of VICSES”, as well as the prestigious Member of the Order of Australia in January 2004 for “service to emergency management and to the community, particularly through the VICSES.” 

I know that Rhys will be sadly missed, but fondly remembered by many past and present members across VICSES and the emergency services sector, both state and Australia-wide.

Given the significant contribution and relationships Rhys had across the service, VICSES intends to compile a memories book that can be presented to Rhys’ family. If you would like to share a memory or reflection, please send a short email to [email protected].

As Chief Officer Operations, I have indicated to the family that we would be privileged to play a role in Rhys’ funeral if this meets with the family’s wishes, noting the challenge of numbers due to the current COVID-19 restrictions.

Kind regards,
Tim Wiebusch
COO Victoria State Emergency Service