Road crashes take a toll on emergency services

Trauma: Port Fairy SES controller Steve McDowell has been to at least 200 crashes in his years of involvement. "Every job you go to sticks with you," he says. Picture: Steff Wills

Trauma: Port Fairy SES controller Steve McDowell has been to at least 200 crashes in his years of involvement. "Every job you go to sticks with you," he says. Picture: Steff Wills

State Emergency Service veteran Steve McDowell thinks the road toll would look different if drivers had seen the horrors he has witnessed on countless roads across the south-west.

“You see some frustrating things on the road and it’s in the back of your mind that if they had seen what we see… they would probably think twice about what they’re doing.

“Most people wouldn’t be able to cope with some of the stuff we see. I don’t think people understand what it really is when we go out to a job and the amount of people that it does affect, including their own family and all the emergency services involved.”

The Port Fairy unit controller and SES member of more than 20 years has been to at least 200 road crashes in his time on the job.

He, and other volunteers, are there when people are having their worst days. Highly trained, they play a vital role at crash scenes. Mr McDowell says it’s impossible to be unaffected.

“It doesn’t matter what organisation you’re with, every job you go to sticks with you.

“Fatalities are the worst. What runs through my mind at a fatality is ‘who was this person, what was their background as an individual’, and then the other side of it is you think about the family. 

“When you’re there the training kicks in. It’s when you stop doing your job, you get back in the truck and drive away is when you start thinking about the bits and pieces of the job.

“I guess the other side of that is you’re always there as a team, there’s always people you talk to on the way back from the job. There’s also a peer support process and generally that’s enacted within 24 hours of anything significant. As a controller of the unit we will follow up with our members as well.”

As part of a small community, the danger of attending a scene involving someone you know is ever present.

“It’s always in the back of your mind when you’re going to something, ‘is it someone you know?’ and being the controller it’s always in the back of your mind if I don’t know them is it someone that one of my crew is going to know.

“I guess for most of the crew the training kicks in, so if it is someone we know we get on with the job and talk about it later on.”

Mr McDowell, who is also a CFA member of almost 30 years, said there was something almost addictive about helping others. “Generally when we get called out it’s a fairly serious accident, it’s not just a run-of-the-mill, they are stuck in cars and whatever else, potentially they have some serious injuries that are going to take a long time to recover from.

“To be able to be there and actually help them, this is across the board whatever we do, it’s about helping them when they’re having probably the worst day of their life.

“You’re there actually doing something tangible, you can see an outcome at the end of it, especially if you get someone out of a car and they get in the ambulance.”

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