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History of Brunswick Valley Rescue Squad

The following text was reprinted from an article published in the early 1980's.

Cover of original article

The NSW Volunteer Rescue Association (VRA)

Search and rescue involving the saving of life and property and the mitigation of suffering, for many years in New South Wales was carried out by the emergency service personnel, ie, Police, Ambulance and Fire Brigade at the scene of the emergency, with the assistance of others who may be nearby, using whatever tools and machinery was available. Often, the equipment was crude and the methods used dangerous, putting the lives of all involved, including the patient, at risk. The exceptions being the fully trained and experienced Police Rescue Squad of NSW and the Mines Rescue team using modern rescue equipment.

During the early 1960's, local residents in some country areas of New South Wales decided to form local rescue squads equipped with specialised equipment to cover the needs of their particular areas and to back up the Police, Ambulance and Fire Brigade with that equipment plus a fully trained rescue team.

In 1969, the executives of several of these rescue groups met at the NSW Police Academy at the invitation of the Police Commissioner and, with the cooperation and support of all the emergency services, formed the New South Wales Volunteer Rescue Association to form a coordinating to supervise the activities of all volunteer rescue squads. All equipment and training is standardised and supervised by the former OIC NSW Police Rescue Squad, Mr Ray Tyson.

Each year representatives of all VRA squads throughout the state meet twice, once at the NSW Police Rescue headquarters and once in a country centre to train, be lectured by experts in the rescue field, exchange ideas and to discuss matters at meetings pertaining to the Association.

There are now over 70 VRA Squads throughout NSW carrying out all types of rescue work such a road, rail, air, domestic, industrial, bush, cave, mine, cliff, inland water, deep sea, snow and mountain rescue, etc.

Brunswick Valley Rescue Squad

As a result of a serious road accident on the Pacific Highway at Brunswick Heads, involving a semi-trailer, two cars and a caravan, which took Police, Ambulance and Fire Brigade Officers several hours to free the injured trapped in the wreckage and to clear the highway because there was no equipment readily available, a public meeting was held at the Brunswick Heads Bowling Club on the 27th October 1977. The meeting was attended by over 90 persons including representatives of Police, Fire Brigade, Ambulance, State Emergency Services, Service Clubs, businesses and residents. Chaired by Byron Shire President, Mr Bob Mules, it heard addresses from other rescue groups based in Kingscliff and Dubbo and it was unanimously agreed to form the Brunswick Valley & District Volunteer Rescue Squad, to be affiliated with the NSW VRA and given the community's full support.

During the first year of operation, the Squad raised money through various means to buy the basic rescue equipment and a squad of dedicated members trained with nearby Kingscliff Rescue Squad together with local residents experienced in the type of equipment used. Ray Tyson visited the area twice and conducted extensive rescue courses in road accident situations, bush search and rescue techniques, cliff rescue and water search and recovery procedure.

The Byron Shire Council accepted trusteeship of the organisation and upon application became a member of the NSW VRA in May 1978. Application was also made and approval given by the Taxation Department for Sales Tax exemption and the Premier's Department to become a registered charity.

The equipment was initially conveyed in an 8' x 6' bogey wheeled trailer built by squad members and housed at the NRMA premises occupied by the original squad captain, Kevin KerDavid. Alerted, usually by the police, the squad was called to several major accidents during the first year to free trapped persons emphasising the great need for such a service in this area.

During 1979, it was obvious to all that the range of equipment was beyond the capabilities of the trailer so the committee decided to purchase a second-hand 4 ton Dodge truck with enclosed body. This proved to be a great improvement in the efficiency of the Squad and the time taken to respond to the calls.

A block of land owned by the Department of Lands and controlled by the Byron Shire, was allocated for the Squad to construct a building to house the rescue vehicle and equipment. Plans were prepared and approved during 1979 and during the early months of 1980, building workers, bricklayers , carpenters, painters, tilers and plumbers volunteered their time free of charge, and with the assistance of members of the squad, built the building valued at over $20,000 for the cost of material only, $8,000. The squad now has it's own headquarters.

Sea Rescue

Brunswick Heads is situated on the banks of the Brunswick River which has a reputation of being one of the most dangerous river bars in NSW and has caused many boating accidents. Since 1971, and Air Sea Rescue group has been in existence maintaining a 15' Hamilton Jet boat at the ready for emergencies in flood, river, bar and surf work. In 1980, the management of the Air Sea Rescue group and the Brunswick Valley & District Volunteer Rescue Squad met and the two groups merged to eliminate separate fund raising and administrative functions. This move proved to be successful and had the full support of the community, so much so that, during 1981 a second rescue boat, a 23' Haines Hunter powered by twin inboard/outboard Mercury motors, was purchased to perform heavy and long range work beyond the capabilities of the small jet boat.

Divers

Coupled with the boat section is a squad of fully qualified divers ready to assist when required. Most of these divers are also boat skippers and crew.

Volunteer Air Patrol Member

One of the rescue squad members, the owner of his own plane, has offered his time and the use of the aircraft to assist the rescue squad, particularly in a search situation. The squad has sponsored this member as a member of the NSW Volunteer Air Patrol.

Unit at Byron Bay

Because of the distance and to reduce the response time when an emergency call is received from the Byron Bay/Bangalow area, an auxiliary unit has been placed in Byron Bay. Squad members in this area now have equipment to commence work until the arrival of the main unit from Brunswick Heads.

Funding

No direct government funding is received and without funding an organisation such as exists in the Brunswick Valley would not be able to operate as it costs many thousands of dollars to keep all the boats, trucks, trailers, buildings and equipment insured and maintained. Funds are continually required to purchase new equipment and replace damaged and worn gear, as well as administrative costs.

The function of this life saving service would cease were it not for the generosity of the citizens of the area and our tourists who visit or area and give their full support.

The organisation is extremely grateful to the Byron Shire Council, all the registered clubs. hotels, businesses and sporting bodies who support all the fund raising activities.

Insurance

While the squad is responsible for insuring items it owns, the NSW State Government now covers the VRA squad members for accidents while on duty connected with rescue activities, and each VRA squad has full public liability cover. This concession is effective since 1980 and has greatly relieved the squad of this overhead cost.

Training

Training is carried out by all squad members on a regular basis, covering all types of emergencies that may occur in the area and keeping in touch with the large range of equipment. All members have completed the St John's First Aid course and keep this certificate current. Members also train with divers and surf club members in advanced resuscitation, regional exercises and inter-squad visits are frequently conducted to exchange ideas on rescue methods and new equipment. All squad members join the management committee meeting once a month to keep abreast of the many administrative matters that require attention.

Independent Group

The Brunswick Valley & District Volunteer Rescue Squad is an independent organisation with the full support of all the State and Federal emergency service departments. Being independent and fully covered by Insurance, there is no permission required for the use of the service or any charges or conditions and they may be called on by any person. The squad always works under the direction of the OIC of the emergency being attended.

Call Out

Police, Ambulance and Fire Brigade officers are the usual persons to alert the squad for a call out to an emergency. Two-way radio, telephone and monitor receivers have the squad mobile in a matter of minutes at any hour, night or day. Until that call goes out, they don't know what the next job might be, but must be confident that, through training and knowledge of the equipment, they can efficiently carry out any task asked of them.

In the past they have been called upon to assist capsized and disabled boats, drownings, flood rescue, escort duty, radio assistance, persons trapped in motor vehicles, cliff rescues, bush searches, animals in distress and the list goes on.

Dedicated Team

Squad members are required to attend meetings, attend training days and exercises, improve their personal qualifications, spend most of their free time fund raising, attending working bees to maintain equipment, vehicles and buildings as well as actual emergency situations.

The residents of the area south of Murwillumbah to Lennox Head covered by the Brunswick Valley & District Volunteer Rescue Squad , can therefore by justifiably proud of the support they have given to that dedicated rescue squad.

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Update

In January 2010 the squad's Marine Rescue units transferred to the newly formed Marine Rescue NSW, when the NSW Government established the new marine rescue organisation.

Marine Rescue NSW comprises members of the three marine rescue organisations that were acting independently prior to the amalgamation, ie, Australian Volunteer Coast Guard, Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol and Volunteer Rescue Association.

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