YOU can do all the training in the world, but nothing really ever prepares emergency service personnel for responding to a serious or fatal car crash.
The scene is often graphic, confronting and at times heartbreaking – but every day these highly-trained professionals walk into places many of us fear to tread.
With double demerit points now in force during the festive period and a high number of vehicles on the road, emergency service personnel have shared a few harsh realities of just how easily a poor decision on the road can impact your life and those around you.
A police officer, a firefighter and paramedics – who have a combined 95 years of service between them – all confess that they have seen things at road crashes that they cannot unsee.
They also say if you had seen these things, you’d never speed, drink drive, use your phone or drive while tired ever again.
Ben Macfarlane joined the NSW Police Force 28 years ago and since then he has lost count of the number of accidents he has attended.
As an Inspector with the Traffic and Highway Patrol Command in Dubbo and across the Western Region, he attends everything from minor bingles, to serious crashes and, unfortunately, fatalities.
One of the worst accidents he has ever attended was a two-car crash just near Bathurst.
“It was a quadruple fatality – three elderly people in one car and one person and two dogs died in another [vehicle],” he said.
“It was just horrible.”
In an act of self-preservation, Insp Macfarlane said most emergency personnel focus solely on their role at the crash, not the horror of it all.
“You become a little bit immune to it, but a lot of the time your mental cups, they fill up every time. You can just go to one more then it’s enough to make a police officer not want to go to an accident or work again,” he said.
If there was one message he hoped the community listen to, it is that driving should be treated as a job.
“Treat driving as your number one job while you’re on the road, it really is vital that all your attention is on piloting the car,” Insp Macfarlane said.
‘You never get used to it’ – Firefighter Shane Brinkworth
IS everyone out of the car? How many vehicles are involved? How bad are the injuries? Where is the accident scene? Will we be the first on scene?
These are the first thoughts that enter Senior Firefighter Shane Brinkworth’s mind after the bells go off and the job alert spits out of the printer at Orange Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) station.
He has been in the service for 30 years and speaks in a calm and experienced manner when reflecting on the often horrific road crashes that he attends.
“I wouldn’t say you ever get used to it,” Mr Brinkworth said.
“I’ve had quite a few fatalities, but I wouldn’t say any of them have affected me worse than others.”
The role of a firefighter is far from just fighting fires at an accident.
Crews can be tasked to perform any number of roles – from traffic management to dealing with hazardous materials at the scene.
At the very serious accidents, paramedics lean into mangled wrecks of cars treating patients as firefighters use heavy equipment to cut injured people out of the wrecks.
Often those in the car have broken bones, extensive bleeding and crush injuries from high impact accidents on back country roads and highways. These are all a very real threat to the survival of some crash victims.
“I don’t think that motorists understand the reality of what a very serious car accident can be, not only the physical and mental injuries but the impacts on their families,” Mr Brinkworth said.
“Some injuries can take so long to recover and some don’t recover – a seriously broken leg might need to be amputated.”
Often, it is initially unknown if speed, fatigue or inattention was a factor in why the crash occurred, but Mr Brinkworth said there was one cause that left him shaking his head.
“One of the worst things is when you can smell alcohol on their [the driver’s] breath,” he said.
FRNSW may have its own employee programs in critical incident and peer support, as well as chaplain and psychiatry services, but Mr Brinkworth said for him and other emergency service personnel, having a happy place or hobby is absolutely vital.
His happy place comes with four feet, a waggling tail and big sloppy kisses.
Mr Brinkworth has long bred bullmastiff dogs and takes great pride in showing them across the country along with this wife Sue.
His other happy place is right beside his two grandchildren.
So, as you get in your car this festive period, Mr Brinkworth has made a plea with motorists to consider the consequences of their bad decisions or inattention on the road.
This plea is not just for the safety of all road users, but for those emergency service personnel who are called to the accident scene.
Poor decisions do matter on the road – Paramedics
WITH 37 years of experience between them paramedics Melanie Lawler and Matt Tucker have attended more road crashes than they can remember.
“You can be at someone’s happiest moment like delivering a baby and the next [call out] could be the worst day of someone’s life,” Ms Lawler said of the accidents she attends.
Recently, Mr Tucker attended an accident in Wattle Flat just north of Bathurst – the scene was horrific and something that touched him deeply.
An 18-year-old female driver had lost control of her car on an unsealed piece of road hitting a tree and a 14-year-old girl sitting in the back seat of the sedan bore the brunt of the collision and died later in hospital.
Even at the scene, Mr Tucker said he suspected the young girl’s “outcome was going to be poor” due to her substantial injuries.
“That one effected me a bit in that I’ve got teenage kids,” Mr Tucker said.
For Ms Lawler, attending crashes where young children are involved has become a lot more meaningful since she had her own babies.
The paramedics said often motorists do not realise the “domino effect” an accident can have – not only those in the car are affected, but also the bystanders and emergency service personnel who attend.
“It’s a choice to pick up the phone, it’s a choice to drink drive. There’s a lot things you can’t control, but you can control your poor decisions,” Ms Lawler said.
Mr Tucker said on a purely financial side, road crashes can be life-changing.
“People don’t realise you can lose your insurance, it can bankrupt them,” he said of people who drink drive.
Like other emergency service personnel, Ms Lawler and Mr Tucker agree that a happy place away from work and the scenes they sometimes faced was absolutely vital.
“Mine would be my kids,” Ms Lawler said.
While for Mr Tucker a few different happy places spring to mind.
“I’m a keen gardener and I like sports and I’ve got a spa,” he said.