Episode 9 - Rescue Stories

An interview with RACQ LifeFlight, RACQ Roadside, Queensland Police Service and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services about rescue missions in Queensland.

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Show notes

An exclusive insight behind the scenes with RACQ LifeFlight, RACQ Roadside, Queensland Police Service and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services about rescue missions in Queensland.


  • Acting Superintendent of Road Policing Command, Keiryn Dermody.
  • Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Acting Inspector, Sean Rivers.
  • RACQ LifeFlight, Brian Guthrie.
  • RACQ Patrol Officer, Robert Cornell.


You're listening to RACQ living.

Anthony Frangi: Hello, and welcome to the RACQ living podcast. I'm Anthony Frangi. You know every day we put our lives at risk. Whether it is driving to work, cycling with friends, bush walking, or out on the water. But it's comforting to know that when life can get a bit tough, there are organisations and the people who work for them ready to lend a helping hand. Whether it's by air, sea, or road.

Anthony Frangi: The RACQ LifeFlight rescue service for example, has made a difference to the lives of thousands of people in the past three decades having flown 44,000 critical rescue missions. But what is life like behind the scenes, and the people who put their own lives at risk every day to save ours?

Anthony Frangi: Well, that's the topic of today's podcast. Joining our panel is Acting Superintendent of Road Policing Command, Keiryn Dermody, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Acting Inspector Sean Rivers, from RACQ LifeFlight Brian Guthrie, and RACQ Patrol Officer Robert Cornell. Welcome everyone.

Robert: Thank you.

Sean: Thank you.

Brian: Thank you.

Keiryn: Thank you.

Anthony Frangi: Kieran, as part of the Queensland Police Service you said that every day is different and rightly so. What attracted you to the police service?

Keiryn: Funny story.

Anthony Frangi: A funny story.

Keiryn: Yes. Years ago, I was part of a conversation where I mentioned the Queensland Police Service. I was laughed at and told, "That's not a job for a female." And I remember at the time thinking, "Really? Well, we'll see about that."

Anthony Frangi: And Robert for you, what was the attraction to join, not only the RACQ but to be a Patrol Officer?

Robert: I grew up on a farm and everything every day was ... I loved anything mechanical was pulled apart and put back together, fixing things, making things work. Fast forward a few years, did a mechanical apprenticeship. But couldn't keep the farm lifestyle of being outside in the sun doing stuff every day.

Robert: Workshops were a bit monotonous. A bit of the same thing every day, but then actually a relative of mine was working for RACQ at the time and said, "Hey we've got good job, good conditions." Yeah, that was four and half years ago now and loving every day since.

Anthony Frangi: And your role can be pretty demanding. You were talking earlier about heading up to north Queensland where you were participating, or I guess supporting, in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie.

Robert: Yes, I Cyclone Debbie last year obviously hit north Queensland very hard, and Proserpine and Airlie Beach area specifically got very much devastated. So, RACQ as part of just supporting the contracted networks, so we obviously help people all over Queensland and the local contractor in Proserpine had been inundated with water.

Robert: His whole workshop had just being flooded, and a couple of patrol vans damaged. And he, the contractor himself had his house and everything had been damaged. So, we sent our crew up there, a couple of tow trucks, patrol vehicle, and we pretty much did his work, helped clean up his workshop, and just were there for the members to assist them in every way that we could while we were up there.

Anthony Frangi: Sean, rescuing is an important part of fire and rescue. It can also be tough, I would imagine?

Sean: Absolutely. Not only tough on the incident itself, but also on post operations with our staff. Sometimes we're often faced with situations that are quite traumatic. Yeah. A rescue can be very complex in nature, that's for sure. It takes sometimes more than one head to try to figure out how we're going to solve the problem.

Brian: The diversity and making sure we're prepared to what Sean's saying as far as the preparation that goes into prior to a task not knowing what the task is necessarily going to be, but being ready for it when it does get there. So, certainly my rule is to make sure everyone of our staff members are ready to go at any point in time. As ready as they can be for what they're about to experience or about to be confronted with. Some of those things are good and bad as far as what is put in place or put in front of them, but being as prepared as we can.

Anthony Frangi: Are there any stories that come to mind that stick with you or have stayed with you over the years?

Brian: 2013 floods are our greatest as far as rescue goes because hopefully people are not yet ... they're in we should call it danger, they're not imminent life threatening type situations. So, you've got an hour, or you might have half an hour. Yeah, and for me there was one in 2013, at Bundaberg where we were just going house by house hovering above.

Brian: So, it's different ... the view is quite different when you look at a flooded town that's used to roads and things where it's just rivers take up where roads were. And watching, and having this head just appear out from the balcony, so they try to look under the eave, and you just see someone it's last light, and everything is against you.

Brian: Being able to recover a family and winching up, we sort of winched up a 15 month old baby, and I hadn't done that in my career. That was a bit of a challenge as far as getting a baby, well a young boy anyway up into the aircraft and then a mum and a dad too, so.

Anthony Frangi: What was particularly challenging about that?

Brian: Well, the winch was really hard. So, with last light, so it's getting dark, so just starting to lose a bit of the sunlight. Then obviously things are harder to see and in around houses, we have power lines, high trees, high houses, and things like that. So, we're about 80 to 100 foot above the house, for a start, it was hard to see them. And then we're trying to go, typical Queensland where it's about a meter square, it's just a little landing and that was our area that we had to get everyone off.

Brian: So, I had to get our Queensland Ambulance Service, our Critical Care Paramedic down onto that spot just to assess them and see if they are okay, and luckily, they all were. But then the challenge then became trying to get a 15 month old up, and just those decisions that go because just the simple things where you think, "I'd only have a 15 month old without a parent in the helicopter when we take them off."

Brian: So, we go, "Okay, we've got to take one first." So, getting dad up first and just try to work at that recovery and getting dad into the aircraft so that then the 15 month old who we know is going to be terrified. Because, when we're looking down the 15 month old looked like it was just a toddler, just walking. So, prepping for that and getting dad in and then having to take a 15 month old off mum.

Brian: They can't hear much when they're down there below us, so there's a lot of noise, and I don't know how that mum's telling the 15 month old to go with this complete stranger. You're bundled up to go up into a helicopter, that for them looks just like a spec above them, and getting them in, it was a little bit distressed and things when we got him up there. But watching the paramedic is a thing I remember vividly sort of how tightly he was holding the little fellow. He's just not holding onto anything but the boy, a great feeling at the end of it.

Anthony Frangi: I bet, yeah. And it's interesting while you were telling that story, the rest of you were absolutely captivated because you must hear these stories. Keiryn for you in particular, you must hear stories like this all the time.

Keiryn: I do. What it is though is that it's a perfect example of how agencies work together. We seek advice from each other, the fire is in particular, ambos about how to solve a particular solution, and it's because of that cooperation that emergencies can be resolved as quickly as they are with minimal risk to people, and it's a wonderful environment to be in because it's amazing the expert skills that are in each and every agency that we can depend on when we need to.

Robert: I was just going to add, I do suppose we are unique in the state of Queensland. We do have lists some agencies in some of the other states which I guess the goal is to give us more interoperability and I think we've achieved that quite successfully.

Sean: Well, that task in itself was when we got sent out by the police to look for people. We've got an ambulance officer on our LifeFlight helicopter, and we go and then we deliver back to police, and the fire rescue were there receiving everyone in and moving them around, and under us we've got swift water rescue going everywhere.

Sean: So, in that scenario, I think there was about five helicopters, there was swift water rescue everywhere, police everywhere, everyone just come and go, get everyone out of any danger that's imminent, and trying to get them to a place where they can get a drink, can get warm, can look after their family. So, in that environment firsthand you can see how it works.

Anthony Frangi: Robert, we were talking earlier about one of the roles you play of course is in rescuing pets and children from cars, often on a daily basis.

Robert: I could be halfway through changing a tire, fitting a battery, doesn't matter what you're doing, alarm goes off, drop everything, off you go. It's definitely one of the more stressful jobs that we go to, being that most of our jobs aren't life critical, but a baby on a hot car on a hot day is definitely a time critical event that we need to go to and-

Anthony Frangi: And, what's usually the cause? Is it the child has keys in their hands?

Robert: The two most common ones are where parent or care giver has given the child keys to play with while they're putting things into the car. Obviously once they've put the kid in, put the groceries in, the doors are all closed and the child's hit the lock button. The other added problem then is the easiest way for us to gain access to a lot of modern cars is to press the unlock button on the keys.

Robert: If they're on the front seat, we can do that. But if the child's holding them, we can't do that. Parents are usually very stressed out when their child's locked in the car especially if they are at fault. I find the most important thing for me to do when I get there is give the person who is stressing out the most a job to do.

Robert: If they can find an iPad to distract the child or just get an umbrella to cover the car up so it doesn't get as hot, anything that they can do will lower the stress level for them which in turn lowers our stress level so.

Anthony Frangi: Sean, tell me about how emergencies have changed over the years, and we know that there are cases that you'll see regularly, but in the way that emergencies are conducted, has that changed much over the years?

Sean: Yeah. Particular ride crash rescue vehicles are more complex in design. We got airbags, we got battery powered hybrid vehicles, things. We historically have just gone in and cutting seals, pillows, all this sort of thing, and now we can potentially be cutting live wire, we can be cutting gas lines, there's more of a hazard to us and the occupier as well.

Sean: So, I guess we've got to keep up with the times and it's difficult for us. We're always trying to do it to, I guess, create as minimal disruption as we can. As you can imagine, maybe you can’t imagine, but if you're stuck inside a vehicle and you've got emergency services workers quite stressed, screaming at each other, you got power tools working and windscreens breaking, you know the occupier could potentially die of stress before anything else. So it's another variable that we've got to be mindful of as well.

Robert: Yeah we went and did a tesla dealer training where we learned about how they all work and everything like that. Yeah, I'm definitely glad that we just fix them, we don't have to deal with anything especially accident related because yeah, there is some pretty dangerous stuff in a lot of those cars these days.

Sean: Another ongoing issue we've had you would be aware Robert, is with fuel tanks. They go, they fill the fuel tank and they think, "Oh," you know, "Squeeze as much as I can in so I can get a few more kilometres out of it," then they park on a steep hill, we start to get excess on a hot day coming at due to expansion. What a lot of people don't realise, while the first instinct is to call the RACQ, the RACQ won't touch the vehicle until we've given the all clear for the safety of the vehicle.

Robert: We can fill your car if it's empty, but if it's full and leaking that's not really something we ...

Anthony Frangi: So, what do you do in that situation?

Robert: Call Queensland Fire and Emergency Services really. That's the thing to do cause it is a situation there where it's a combustion risk and essentially step away from it and call an expert is the recommended course of action.

Sean: And when the fuel clicks off?

Robert: Maybe consider leaving it at that.

Keiryn: From my view it's changed over the years. We've got better collaboration, we work better together, we osculate our work forces a lot better than we used to. The difficulties we face sometimes is when you're in rural or remote areas, that place is a whole different level of complexities around a particular incident and how you're going to deal with it and how quickly you can respond.

Keiryn: And depending on the environment or the terrain that the emergency is actually occurring in, it can delay emergency services quite considerably. So, if anyone is travelling in rural or remote areas, they really need to consider taking enough water, having some food in the car, and really have some forward planning in their mind about telecommunications, do they need a satellite phone, because forward planning keeps them safe, and it helps emergency services find them as quickly as we can.

Sean: I guess we've been the beneficiary of massive advances in the technology around helicopters and the capabilities in helicopters, very different even say five or six years ago where we had smaller aircraft, less capable. So, now they're going further, faster, can lift more, so really we're getting to places faster than we ever did, but we're also then capable the platform that we're able to put in there is an intensive care platform.

Sean: So, when we do get a patient on board, they can be getting care from the roadside, from the middle of the paddock, and then receive that care right through to a tertiary hospital, say here in Brisbane or another major centre where they're going straight into an emergency department and getting the best care in the world.

Anthony Frangi: Listening to these stories because you all ... there's a common thread, isn't there that you all help people?

Keiryn: Most definitely. Helping people or helping others is one of the most rewarding and honourable things you can do.

Sean: It is absolutely. It's definitely rewarding, it's challenging at times, you know, we've got different people, we've got different demographics, we've got different cultures, but yeah, overall it's a very satisfying career.

Robert: It's very rewarding to be able to help people and that's certainly one of the reasons I'm enjoying the job and still do it day in day out because it can be the middle of summer and it's 40 degrees and you're outside changing a tire but it doesn't really matter because you're helping someone.

Robert: So, it helps the day go along and same thing, it could be raining and storming and again you're just helping people and it really does make the job and RACQ as a company is there for the members and we're there first and foremost for the member and my job is to help. If I'm not helping, I'm not doing my job.

Brian: Supporting everything everyone else has already said around what you get from it. What it also attracts for me is other like-minded people. So, not only do you get to help people but you also get to work with some amazing people around you because they are drawn to the same thing, they've got the same motivation to help others and that just allows and makes my job easy, and I hope it makes others around me easier.

Brian: Because you've just got that common goal, so you're not trying to convince someone to do their job because they're there and they want to be there. So, you don't have to motivate, it takes that whole aspect out of it. So, not only do you get the reward of actually helping someone and seeing that look in someone's eyes when they are so grateful, you also get to work with some great people.

Anthony Frangi: Well, congratulations on the work that you all do, many years of service and let's hope that you're not going to run away too soon because the industry and the sector needs you. Congratulations, Brian, Robert, Keiryn, and Sean. Thanks for joining us here at the RACQ podcast.

Brian: Thank you.

Keiryn: Thank you.

Robert: Thank you.

Sean: Thank you.

Anthony Frangi: If you would like more information on any of the stories raised today, email us at roadhead@racq.com.au. I'm Anthony Frangi, join me next time for more RACQ living.