For seven years, recycled aggregates producer Alex Fraser has lent its hand to the volunteers of Search and Rescue Dogs Australia (SARDA), with its recycling facilities serving as the ideal training ground for a highly skilled team of canines.
The unlikely combination of Alex Fraser’s recycling facilities and rescue dogs has proven to be instrumental in readying some of Australia’s most skilled four-legged search and rescue personnel.
The company’s partnership with SARDA highlights a partnership with an organisation that has been saving lost and trapped Australians for decades. SARDA has been operated by volunteers as a non-for-profit organisation since 1994. Two of its search dog teams were deployed in the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 and received Australia’s National Emergency Medal.
One of the top dogs at SARDA is a black Labrador named Obi Wan Kenobi. Even without the skills of a Jedi Knight, Obi proved to be one of Victoria’s only hopes in tracking down missing teenager William Callaghan from Mount Disappointment in early June.
Obi is one of several Labradors and Golden Retrievers that train fortnightly at Alex Fraser’s construction and demolition recycling facilities, which simulate disaster zones that replicate the aftermath of an earthquake or a building collapse.
The company’s Clarinda Recycling Facility offers stockpiles of demolition material that act as post-urban disaster environments, but the site also has thousands of trees that help replicate the bushland that SARDA’s dogs are deployed in. Alex Fraser’s Sustainable Supply Hub at its Laverton facility is also key for the dogs’ training for their annual three day training camps.
For SARDA founder and head trainer Julie Cowan, Alex Fraser’s support has helped significantly.
“Alex Fraser are our major supporter, providing training sites depicting collapsed buildings plus LandSAR (Land Search and Rescue) areas,” she said.
“Access to their sites in Clarinda and Laverton are vital to our training and the growth of our capability. And in addition to that they help us access vital canine (K9) equipment and member equipment, and fund international trainers to attend our annual training camps. We are truly thankful for their support.”
An ideal environment
The dogs are trained off lead and locate survivors by scents in the air rather than tracking, which allows them to effectively cover large areas.
“Alex Fraser’s stockpiles of concrete and tree-lined bunds are the perfect environment for search and rescue training,” Cowan said. “There’s more than 40,000 trees at the Clarinda Recycling Facility that give us a safe enclosed environment that replicates Victoria’s bushlands.”
SARDA’s K9 teams are taught to associate the scent of a human breath with their toys – which they receive as a reward when they find a person in a simulation. Volunteers at the recycling facilities hide under rubble, which enhance the rescue dogs’ capabilities in locating and alerting lost and trapped people.
Alex Fraser’s Managing Director Peter Murphy once needed rescuing after surviving a light plane crash. For Murphy, Alex Fraser’s support for SARDA goes beyond a paid donation and is a source of pride for the recycling company.
“We are honoured to have a community partner like Search and Rescue Dogs Australia; supporting them in a way that’s mutually beneficial and builds ‘social value’ to our business. This strategic partnership gives our employees unique opportunities to support this important cause through their work, and it provides the community with a critical emergency service,” he said.
Alex Fraser is owned by Hanson Australia and is part of the global HeidelbergCement Group.
According to Hanson’s regional human resources manager Jeff Burns, Alex Fraser’s social responsibility exhibited in its support of SARDA has been a turning point for the company.
“As a company, we discovered that we could only really ‘make a difference’ if we shifted our thinking on corporate social responsibility (CSR) beyond simply supporting a ‘good cause’ to building specific relationships with community organisations that enable us to join forces and make a material and lasting difference to our communities,” he said.
“Sure, we’re a recycling company and we’re proud to be making a difference every day through our core work, but when we realised our CSR effort amounted to writing cheques for local schools or sporting clubs (all good causes to be sure), we knew we could do more – by redirecting our support from generic donations, to a strategic, meaningful partnerships.”