NSW Po­lice Res­cue Squad cel­e­brates its 75th an­niver­sary this year. We chat with lead­ing se­nior con­sta­ble Mar­cus Back­way about the unit’s her­itage, op­er­a­tion and 4x4 hard­ware.

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - WORDS GLENN TOR­RENS PHO­TOS MARK BEAN

IF YOU reg­u­larly travel to the New South Wales bush, you’ll be happy to know there’s a group of cop­pers ready to re­spond to a ‘help me’ when needed. They’re the lads and ladies of NSW Po­lice Res­cue, and in 2017 they’re cel­e­brat­ing 75 years of op­er­a­tion.

The unit traces its ex­is­tence back to the early 1940s, when the task of es­tab­lish­ing what was then known as the NSW Po­lice Cliff Res­cue Squad was en­trusted to an ex-syd­ney Har­bour Bridge rig­ger, Harry Ware. Harry wasn’t a sworn-in con­sta­ble with the NSW Po­lice, but he was the ideal choice as he had prior in­volve­ment with the Na­tional Emer­gency Ser­vice of NSW


(a dis­tant fore­run­ner to to­day’s State Emer­gency Ser­vice) and he trained the early res­cue crew and was the first boss.

In re­flec­tion of his ex­per­tise, and with ref­er­ence to his role in the squad, he was later ap­pointed to the po­si­tion of spe­cial con­sta­ble with the rank of sergeant into the NSW Po­lice. By 1953, with the unit’s in­creas­ing role in at­tend­ing car crashes (car own­er­ship was in­creas­ing and, with neg­li­gi­ble safety tech­nol­ogy, pro­por­tion­ately more peo­ple were killed and in­jured) and other non-cliff-re­lated tasks, the unit’s name had been consolidated to NSW Po­lice Res­cue Squad.

Over the decades the Res­cue Squad has gone from strength to strength, and it has at­tended some of the worst ac­ci­dents, in­ci­dents and dis­as­ters na­tion-wide (see Crush Syn­drome). These days, the Res­cue Squad in Syd­ney also in­cludes the Bomb Dis­posal Unit and sup­ports other po­lice units in var­i­ous in­ci­dents, from search-and-res­cue op­er­a­tions to sieges.


NSW PO­LICE shares the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Res­cue with other en­ti­ties within the state such as Fire Res­cue NSW, Am­bu­lance Ser­vice NSW, State Emer­gency Ser­vice, Ru­ral Fire Ser­vice and Vol­un­teer Res­cue As­so­ci­a­tion.

“There’s not re­ally any such thing as a typ­i­cal week,” said the depart­ment’s Lead­ing Se­nior Con­sta­ble, Mar­cus Back­way, who has been with the NSW Po­lice Res­cue Squad for a to­tal of 13 years. “Can you be­lieve I was in­spired by see­ing Gary Sweet and So­nia Todd run­ning across TV screens on Po­lice Res­cue?”

Back­way is based, along with more than 40 other of­fi­cers, in in­ner-sub­ur­ban Syd­ney. The Syd­ney unit is the cen­tral sup­port for the other units (and

an­other 120 or so Res­cue of­fi­cers) spread all over NSW in­clud­ing at Lis­more, Spring­wood, Ka­toomba, Goul­burn, Illawarra, New­cas­tle and Bathurst, as well as a western re­gion unit.

The breadth of what NSW Po­lice Res­cue does is enough to make your head spin. It cuts bath­room plug­holes out to free kids’ fin­gers, ex­tri­cates car-crash vic­tims from ve­hi­cles, and it per­forms height, depth, con­fined space and in­dus­trial res­cues. How­ever, de­spite the range of work the Res­cue Squad per­forms due to NSW’S to­pog­ra­phy, steep ter­rain and cliff res­cue – what the Squad calls ‘ver­ti­cal work’ – re­mains an im­por­tant part of their method­ol­ogy, even if the word cliff hasn’t been part of the squad’s sign­writ­ing since the 1950s. Of course, it’s not just cliffs that re­quire ver­ti­cal ac­cess. Build­ings, build­ing sites, cranes and even the in­te­rior of bridge py­lons may re­quire ab­seil­ing (or other height-ac­cess work) for res­cue or re­cov­ery.


THE USE of 4WDS is es­sen­tial for res­cue work, even in urban sit­u­a­tions where some­thing as in­nocu­ous as a steep drive­way can make ac­cess dif­fi­cult. The ve­hi­cles are or­gan­ised and pro­vided by what Mar­cus calls ‘fleet’, with in­put from the Po­lice Res­cue per­son­nel who will be us­ing them.

The ve­hi­cles are re­tained for 80,000km. There is a mix of Toy­ota Hilux and Ford Ranger du­al­cabs on fleet, plus a scat­ter­ing of Toy­ota Land Cruiser sin­gle-cabs, larger Isuzu 2WD and 4WD trucks, and a Yamaha Rhino side-by-side. Res­cue can also call for the as­sis­tance of the ultimate go-any­where rig, the NSW Po­lice he­li­copter.

Some peo­ple may be sur­prised, but the ve­hi­cles carry fewer ac­ces­sories or mod­i­fi­ca­tions than your typ­i­cal bush tourer. Sus­pen­sion for the du­al­cabs is usu­ally stan­dard, but re­quire­ments for car­ry­ing heavy equip­ment mean the Cruis­ers of­ten re­ceive a GVM up­grade.

Each ve­hi­cle is fit­ted with lights, sirens, in-cabin com­mu­ni­ca­tion equip­ment, a frontal pro­tec­tion bar and a winch. The dual-cabs re­tain their factory tubs fit­ted with canopies which, with roof racks, are ideal for the task. The Cruiser’s al­loy work-bodies are cus­tom-built and see ser­vice on two ve­hi­cles (160,000km) be­fore being re­placed. That’s good for the bud­get and min­imises the time re­quired for fit-out (per­formed by the Res­cue per­son­nel who use the ve­hi­cles) when new ve­hi­cles are re­quired. It also al­lows Res­cue to in­cor­po­rate any new ideas, tech­nolo­gies and equip­ment into ve­hi­cle fit-outs on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

The use-twice strat­egy means you’re likely to see ev­ery sec­ond ex-cop Cruiser at auc­tion with a bare back – the ser­vice bodies are stripped of the spe­cial­ist equip­ment and left on the ve­hi­cles at the end of their sec­ond 80,000km ro­ta­tion.


Equip­ment needs vary de­pend­ing on the ve­hi­cle’s lo­ca­tion and in­tended use. For in­stance, the NSW Po­lice Res­cue and Bomb Dis­posal ve­hi­cles we’re show­ing here are set up for of­froad ac­ci­dents and ver­ti­cal res­cue – two com­mon sce­nar­ios for the Syd­ney-based crew.

“I’ve seen plenty of bad stuff hap­pen in the bush,” Back­way said, as the con­ver­sa­tion dur­ing our pho­to­shoot bounced around from sub­ur­ban car crashes, to sieges and stolen guns, to the use of drones for in­spect­ing sites and lo­cat­ing vic­tims, to the topic of re­mote-area and off-road res­cue jobs – noth­ing is left out.

“Of­ten we will be called out to co-or­di­nate searches for bush­walk­ers or 4Wders who have be­come lost, in­jured, run out of fuel, or got bogged. Sure, peo­ple make mis­takes, but some peo­ple are just not pre­pared. They lack the ex­pe­ri­ence or knowl­edge.

“Dur­ing floods, we do dozens of res­cues of ve­hi­cle own­ers who have driven into flood­wa­ters. Yes, this in­cludes 4WDS. Peo­ple think, ‘I have a 4WD, I can do this’ and they soon dis­cover they can’t. It’s not like the ads on TV.”

There’s worse, too. In cop-speak, ‘re­cov­ery’ has a more oner­ous def­i­ni­tion than the one most 4Wders un­der­stand.

“Trag­i­cally, the 4WD off-road ac­ci­dents I have re­sponded to dur­ing my ca­reer have been for the re­cov­ery of a de­ceased driver or pas­sen­ger who wasn’t wear­ing a seat belt.

“Peo­ple think safety doesn’t mat­ter in the bush, but there’s just as much chance – maybe even more – of get­ting in­jured and killed out there than on the bi­tu­men.”

“Peo­ple think they don’t need a seat­belt on be­cause they’re only go­ing slow, but all of a sud­den a wheel digs in, the ve­hi­cle rolls and they fall out a win­dow and the ve­hi­cle rolls onto them, or they’re thrown out. Plus, in the bush, it’s not as easy to get to the pa­tient ... peo­ple may sur­vive the crash then die later due to in­juries while emer­gency ser­vices are on the way.”

“Rid­ing in the back of utes is an­other sit­u­a­tion. Even at walk­ing speed peo­ple fall off and hit their head. That hap­pens a lot.”

The NSW Po­lice Res­cue Squad is made up of a range of ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing this Isuzu NPS 300 4x4.

Dual- and sin­gle-cab ve­hi­cles are kept for 80,000km.

Terry’s HJ47 has been re­stored with replica hard­ware to boot.

The HJ47 Cruiser worked tire­lessly and be­came a leg­end with its 3.6-litre diesel en­gine. Most of the po­lice-type hard­ware for this build was do­nated to Terry.

Both the Ford Ranger and Toy­ota Land Cruiser are fit­ted with all the cur­rent gear and mod­ern res­cue tech­nol­ogy needed to help vic­tims in al­most any sit­u­a­tion.

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