THE Ballina State Emergency Service unit volunteers cannot believe that someone would steal wheels off their sandbagging machine.
The theft was discovered days after 45 volunteers from the unit answered about 180 calls for help from the community when ex-cyclone Oswald passed over last week.
Unit publicity officer Ian Fitzsimmons said the theft was "disappointing".
The sand-bagging machine is attached to a trailer and stored in Ballina Shire Council's depot on Tamarind Dr.
Mr Fitzsimmons said the theft had occurred between Christmas Eve and last Friday when a council worker noticed a security chain was missing off the shed door where the machine is stored. He discovered that two wheels on one side of the four-wheel trailer were missing.
Mr Fitzsimmons said it was lucky the machine wasn't needed when the wild weather passed over the shire. He said sandbags were used in call-outs, but not enough to get the bagging machine out.
The machine can be towed to where it is needed and, with two chutes operating, can fill 1200 bags an hour, significantly quicker than manually filling bags with sand.
Mr Fitzsimmons encouraged whoever stole the wheels to help the unit volunteers fill sandbags so they can understand how much hard work it is.
It will cost an estimated $500 to replace the 4WD trailer wheels - something the SES unit didn't need because they are raising money to redevelop their shed to give them more storage and training space.