As we all know, there's much more to CFA than fighting fires. Members from two more road rescue teams tell their stories.
Werribee Rescue Team
Victoria’s busiest volunteer-only road rescue brigade has 25 rescue-trained members and is called out to around 130 vehicle rescues a year.
Brigade Captain Michael Wells works as an intensive care flight paramedic with Ambulance Victoria (AV) during the day.
“It gives me a greater understanding of injuries and is a useful skillset to have,” he said. “The knowledge I’ve gained from trauma care helps me make decisions when extricating an occupant from a car.
“At an incident my main role is a leadership one, though I can get on the tools when required.”
Michael also spends a lot of time passing on his rescue skills. He not only trains his own brigade members, but also takes the heavy rescue course at VEMTC Craigieburn to teach MFB recruit firefighters about road rescue and AV considerations on scene. He also trains SES units.
But for Michael it’s not all a one-way process - the emergency services are keen to share knowledge.
“We work as a team, irrespective of the colour of the overalls,” Michael said. “We enhance our knowledge by sharing it. Other agencies learn from us and we learn from them.”
Werribee brigade also has a six-member rescue competition team. In addition to their regular duties as operational firefighters, competition team members take on a lot of extra training.
“We had a strong, committed team for many years that retired a couple of years ago when they were still at the top of their game.”
This team came second in the World Rescue Challenge in the first year it took part, won the Australasian Road Rescue Challenge twice, and placed many times. Over the years, team members also won many individual awards.
“Members of the previous team now train and critique the current team, which hasn’t yet competed. They are assessed by the best of the best and will compete against the best of the best.”
Apollo Bay Rescue
In 2016 Apollo Bay Fire Brigade was struggling with its membership, with only five members turning out. Later that year they carried out a huge recruitment drive in the local community.
“This resulted in eight new members and we all busted a gut to train them in time for the fire season,” said brigade Captain Dave Howell. “They finished their training on 23 December and got their gear the next day. Then on Christmas Day half of them were paged to their first fire at Wye River. We spent almost two weeks there.”
Apollo Bay Rescue, the only rescue brigade in District 6, turns out to vehicle accidents at Princetown in the west, Lorne in the east, and Barramunga or further to the north. That means the current 15 brigade members trained for rescue are responsible for 120 kilometres of the Great Ocean Road and surrounding area.
The rescue team attends around 50 road and high-angle rope rescues a year.
“About 70 per cent of the brigade’s call-outs are for rescues; far more than fire call-outs,” said Dave. This is because of the amount of traffic on the roads because of the number of tourists. Most accidents around here are not due to high speed, but lack of knowledge of road conditions and rules.
“When the pager goes off we know it’s likely to be a real job, not because of a false alarm.”
The brigade knows the paramedics and police officers in Apollo Bay and surrounding areas. “Both the ambos and police know what we can do, and as a team we get the job done. It helps when you personally know the other emergency services. We all have each other’s backs.
“Road rescue isn’t for everyone though,” continued Dave. “We’ve had a couple of members over the years go to jobs and never come back. But I think those who join a rescue brigade can make a real difference; you’re dealing with people’s lives. The decisions we make have a big impact for those being rescued and the rescuers.”
Dave has made a conscientious effort to ensure every member of the brigade is trained and maintain their skills. “All our team is qualified in the majority of areas - Minimum Skills, BA, advanced pumping, advanced first-aid, rescue (both road and rope), to name a few.
“To maintain road rescue skills, we need cars to practise on, but it’s difficult to find them. Like most brigades, we aren’t flush with cash so buying them isn’t an option. We rely on the generosity of the community, which is great but usually doesn’t allow us to work on late model cars with the latest technology.”
Dave sets up training scenarios for the team. “For one exercise, I pushed a car off the road into a creek, and the team had to remove the patient dummy from it. I also used a waterfall, where members had to use a rope system to reach the car.”
Dave may be the most experienced member in the rescue team but he‘s quick to point out he values all his members’ thoughts.
“I wear the red hat but it doesn’t mean anything when we’re at a job. I ask everyone for their opinion because they may have a better idea than me.
“Sometimes I walk away from a job to look at it from a distance. When you’re up close you can get tunnel vision. You need to stand back sometimes and have a think.”
Apollo Bay was the first rescue brigade to get battery-operated tools for road rescue. This portable equipment is simple to use: “You pick it up and take it down a cliff with you without needing a portable pump. I would love to see every rescue brigade have them as standard stowage.” Still on the brigade’s wish list is a replacement for the 25-year-old rescue truck. “Hopefully, in the near future, this will happen.”
You can also read about Lakes Entrance and Pakenham rescue teams.