Prior to 1961, ambulance officers attending motor vehicle accidents in Sydney, as elsewhere in Australia, relied on tow truck operators to release victims from wrecked cars, which often required the operator to return to his shop for equipment not carried on the truck. In 1961, Sandy Purdie, Superintendent of the St. George-Sutherland District Ambulance Service, suggested the purchase of a specially-equipped rescue vehicle.
Radio announcer Gary O'Callaghan, working with Supt. Purdie and his son Ambulance Officer George Purdie, began a campaign to acquire a vehicle for the Sydney area. After little success seeking government and corporate funding, Callaghan's radio station held a public appeal and in a single day raised the funds for the new Res-Q-Van, or "Q Van" as it became known.
A plate affixed to the cab (100K JPEG) commemorates the appeal.
The most obvious feature of the Q Van was the pair of huge 500-watt floodlights. Other equipment included cutting torch, hydraulic and mechanical jacks with lifting capacities up to 75 tons, ropes and pulleys, chain, bolt cutters, electric and petrol-driven saws, various small tools, and ladders, including one designed to bridge the gap between buildings.
Station Officer Jim Smith (left), a former rigger at the Port Kembla Steelworks, was placed in charge of the Res-Q-Van at the Rockdale station, and became the first ambulance officer to be trained for rescue work by members of the small existing police rescue squad.
The truck also carried fire extinguishers, breathing apparatus, asbestos gloves and blanket, rubber lined suits for protection against chemicals, stretchers and first aid equipment. In addition to the rescue equipment the truck was fitted with a radio telephone set, an alternator to supply 240-volt power, and a 6-man inflatable boat with outboard motor. Amazingly, there was still room to transport a patient on a stretcher.
Seen in this photo are (from left) Supt. Sandy Purdie, George Purdie, Jim Smith, Tony Heslin, Clive Faux.
Jim Smith is seen again in this 1967 photo from Rescue: A History of Ambulance Rescue in New South Wales. The picture was taken at the site of an accident in Hurstville, a suburb on the south side of Sydney, not far from the Rockdale ambulance station.
Station Officer Smith is said to have missed only 3 calls in his 17 years driving the Q Van. He and his crew dealt primarily with motor vehicle accidents, but other calls included industrial and domestic accidents, several train wrecks, and occasional animal rescues.
As Australia's first dedicated rescue vehicle, the Q Van served with the St. George-Sutherland District (Southern Sydney) of the New South Wales Ambulance Transport Service until it was taken over by the Central District Ambulance, when ambulance services in Sydney were amalgamated later in the 1960s.
Paul McCurley took these photos of the unit as it was restored in its "ambulance cream" paint in 1995, and preserved as part of the NSW Ambulance historical collection at the Point Clare workshops on the NSW Central Coast. See also a right side view (100K JPEG).
A Willys Jeep Forward Control 4WD chassis, with front PTO winch, was chosen as the platform for the Q Van. The custom fiberglass body was fabricated by the engineering division of Wormald Brothers Pty. Ltd. in Melbourne, Victoria. (See the Wormald Brothers badge (90K JPEG) above the front grille.) Total cost of the unit was $12,800.
The truck went into service on 6 October 1961, and served until 1980. Luckily it was then kept in storage until 1994, when Rescue Officer Gary Simpson of the Pt. Clare/Gosford Station began to organize its restoration. After 13 months of planning and work, the restoration was completed for the 100th anniversary of the NSW Ambulance Service in 1995. In this photo Ambulance Officer Graham Goddard cleans the FC chassis.
There was also a second Q Van. In 1963, an almost identical rescue unit was commissioned by the Hunter District Ambulance Service, after members of the Hunter committee travelled to Sydney to see the original truck in action. It was based in the industrial city of Newcastle, about two hours north of Sydney. Industrial accidents became a larger percentage of its workload, as well as high-angle rescue on nearby cliffs.
This photo from the Newcastle Morning Herald of 21 October 1963 shows the truck being presented to the committee by the Hamilton Rotary Club, who led the appeal to raise the funds required.
This remarkable photo by Lindsay Bridge shows the Hunter van shortly after its commissioning, taking part in the Maitland Council Centenary parade on 16 November 1963.
The fate of the Hunter Q Van is unknown, after it was replaced in 1980 with a Ford F-350 rescue truck.
As of 2014, the original Q Van has been moved to Temora, NSW to be part of a new national ambulance collection at the Temora Rural Museum. It is one of 21 vehicles in the collection, including a 1916 Willys Overland Model 75 World War I-era field ambulance, seen in the background here.
Paul McCurley's great photos of the unit in its new home include this shot of the interior. When you see the equipment including a kerosene lantern, you get a sense of what a big step forward the Q Van was at the time.
Additional details visible here include the siren and the ladder rack on the roof, and the large comnpartments on the right side.
Extinguishers and jacks are displayed inside, along with a loudhailer, electric drill and circular saw. Some of the black and white photos seen above are included in the display.
Thanks to Paul McCurley for photographing the Q Van and researching its background. The history of the truck comes from The Ambulance Service of Sydney 1894-1976 by Clement Deeth, and Rescue: A History of Ambulance Rescue in New South Wales by Jason Byrnes (published by the Ambulance Service of New South Wales, 1995.) Thanks also to the Point Clare Ambulance Station for restoring the truck. -- Derek Redmond
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