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Heartfelt thanks to Loch Rescue
Just after midnight on a stormy night in December last year, a utility crossed the road near the junction of the South Gippsland and Bass Highways and hit a west-bound van head on.
By Gill Heal
When members of Loch brigade’s Rescue Unit arrived at the scene, the ute driver was in an ambulance and the van driver had died and was still trapped in his vehicle.
The Major Collision Unit completed its work around 4am but needed daylight to take more photos. The Rescue Unit maintained its vigil through the night, waiting for clearance to free the trapped man.
Finally, as morning came, they got to work. They cut into the vehicle’s pillars then carefully pulled away the shattered vehicle from around the man. When they finished he was gently moved.
What leads ordinary men and women to volunteer to do such a service, willing to be called out at any time to deal with often horrifying and traumatic circumstances?
Loch brigade formed its Rescue Unit in 1989. There’d been a car crash at Almurta and a mother of three young children had died. According to local Greig Barry, “The Loch blokes reckoned that if they’d had a rescue unit they may have saved her,” said Greig. “They worked like billy-o to raise the money – dug up sleepers from the Wonthaggi-Nyora rail track and sold them.” Greig joined soon after the unit formed.
Times have changed. In the olden days, skills and equipment were cruder. Winches used to pull cars apart, but now hydraulic rams are used. Modern cars are stronger, safer and more complicated. Airbags have to be got around.
The Loch unit now works with a computer system that maps the design of 30,000 vehicles. Every year, rescue units from all over the state visit Holden’s site at Grantville to practise cutting open different cars, and sharing new ideas and methods.
The emotional and psychological toll on members needs constant vigilance. “You might think you can do all these things,” said Greig, “but things happen that you can never prepare for.” He knows the trauma of taking a parent to see a son or daughter who’s died. “It’s worse if it’s someone you know. They’re things you never forget.”
Debriefing sessions help the unit monitor the impact of serious accidents on members, and a chaplain, psychologist, or peers may follow up ongoing trauma.
Dignity and respect have become the unit’s credo. “You come to understand that the person in the vehicle is someone’s child or parent,” said Greig.
Anthony Wilson, who died that stormy night in December, was a thoughtful man. When on holiday in Cambodia, he heard that the local kids had never been to the beach, so he hired a bus to take them there. And he bought them all a toothbrush and a pair of shoes.
When police knocked on the door of Anthony’s family home at 4am, the devastated family asked where he was and were shocked to be told he was still at the scene of the accident. “But who’s out there with him?” they asked. “Volunteers”, said the police, "the local rescue unit."
The following week, Anthony’s brother Paul rang to thank the Rescue Unit crew for their care at the scene. Anthony's parents Leo and Margaret wanted to know whether mourners at the funeral could be invited to donate to the unit. Surprised and moved, the members gratefully accepted.
The Wilson family came to their January meeting with envelopes containing $1,500. Louise, Anthony’s sister, later added $500 from a work raffle. “It really touched the members,” said Greg.
The unit spent $700 on a windscreen cutter, the first of its kind in Australia. The rest of the donation went on a new lighting set-up and battery-powered tools.
More recently, in mid June, members of the Wilson family and their friends visited Loch brigade to accept a framed memorial of Anthony as a sign of the unit’s appreciation of their donation. Brief, heartfelt speeches were made. Strangers brought together by tragedy; grief bridged by acts of compassion, respect and gratitude.
Bringing meaning to a tragic event, linking all parties, is the good man Anthony Wilson. “He was that kind of person,” said Paul. “Who he was, the many acts of kindness he had done throughout his life, were reflected in the sacrifice and efforts of local volunteers that night.”
Photo caption (from left to right):
Loch Rescue Unit members Pete Sullivan and Len Wyhoon, Anthony Wilson’s sister Louise and brother Paul holding the memorial, and unit member Greig Barry