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 1960, 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.
A Willys Jeep Forward Control FC-170 chassis, with front PTO winch, was chosen as the platform for the Q Van, and was the first FC truck imported into Australia. 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.
Thanks to Paul McCurley for the photos.
These sketches were done at Wormald Brothers during the design phase, and were included in an article on the front page of Willys Australia's Jeep News, December 1960 (500K JPEG) announcing the plan to build the Q Van.
(The same page announced the pink CJ-3B Gala Jeep.)
The proposed curved profile of the rear doors became flat in the final design of the fiberglass body.
The Q Van went into service on 6 October 1961. As Australia's first dedicated rescue vehicle, it 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 in 1962.
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.
The Q Van was repainted in 1965 with the new standard white.
After retirement in 1980, it was stored at the Sydney Motor Museum, as seen here circa 1990. Photo courtesy sv1ambo.
Three years before its retirement, the Q Van can be seen near the top of this detail from a wider photo (320K JPEG) of the 1977 Granville railway disaster, which killed 83 people and injured 210.
By this time, the Police Rescue Squad had vehicles inspired by the Q Van, including the International ACCO heavy rescue truck (70K JPEG) also seen here, which appears to have been second on the scene, following the Fire Brigade.
Mick Broomfield found this photo in the Blue Mountains City Library.
Following retirement, the Q Van was kept in safe storage until 1994, when Rescue Officer Gary Simpson of the Pt. Clare/Gosford Station began to organize its restoration. In this photo Ambulance Officer Graham Goddard cleans the FC chassis.
After 13 months of planning and work, the restoration was completed for the 100th anniversary of the NSW Ambulance Service in 1995, and put on display at Point Clare.
Paul McCurley took the photos of the unit as it was restored in its original "ambulance cream" paint and preserved as part of the NSW Ambulance historical collection at the Point Clare workshops on the NSW Central Coast.
In 2014, the original Q Van was 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 compartments 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 on this page are included in the display.
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.
The only color photo I've seen of the second Q Van was turned up by Mick Broomfield. The large compartment doors on both sides of the body suggest that, unlike the Sydney design, the Hunter District van did not have a stretcher platform inside.
This nice shot 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 this second Q Van in Hunter is unknown, after it was replaced in 1980 with a Ford F-350 rescue truck.
Thanks to Paul McCurley for photographing the Q Van and researching its background, Vaughn Becker for the drawing from Jeep News, and sv1ambo on Flickr for the 1990 photo.
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.) -- Derek Redmond
See also FC Fire Engines Around the World and Willys Ambulances.
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