'It basically cooked his feet': Chilling details from a road crash responder on the front line

Brooke Rolfe
News Reporter

Paul Marshall has been there to experience the worst days of countless people’s lives and sadly, many people’s last.

But the 41-year-old captain of the Albury and Border Rescue Squad, which are primary responders for road crash rescue, says “you have to take the good with the bad” - something he’s learned since signing up as a volunteer 17 years ago.

The bad doesn’t get much worse than having to pull the body of a man, the godfather of a colleague, from a tree just six weeks after he generously donated $2000 worth of products towards their squad fundraiser.

Speaking with Yahoo News Australia, Mr Marshall also recalled spending almost 400 hours on the water in search of a missing man, whose body was “thankfully” located months later, but “not in a great state”.

The scent of road crashes stays with responders

The scent of such tragedies is one of the things that has stayed with Mr Marshall, who works as a highway patrol officer for Victoria Police, throughout his life.

Paul Marshall is ready at all hours of the day to put his problem solving skills to the test. Source: NSW Volunteer Rescue Association Inc.

“Dead bodies, especially ones that have been in the water, have a very distinctive smell. There are times where you’ll just go ‘I’m just going to walk away from that’,” he said.

Mr Marshall explained how frequently being the first on the scene to horrific accidents was “challenging”, but often the smell of a tragedy would leave a bigger scar than the sight of it.

“Seeing things is one thing, I think it’s your other senses that are more affected – certainly smell,” he said.

“We have a member who goes to barbecues and has to leave. Because we went to a bus accident with a flat-nosed bus, and the driver hit a tree and kept his foot on the accelerator.

“It basically cooked his feet. So that smell means that sometimes every now and again, one of our members cant handle barbecues.”

In the instance of arriving to discover someone had already died, Mr Marshall said being able to give the victim “as much dignity and respect in their last moments as possible” was a rewarding experience.

An incident Mr Marshall's team was called to late last year. Source: NSW Volunteer Rescue Association Inc.

Living in the regional area of “Smallbury”, he said that often he experienced a closer connection to the people involved in accidents due to the wide web of people he knew.

“You will always deal with something and the six degrees of separation is down to about three, so every time you go to a job there’s going to be someone who goes ‘hey, did you go to that one on the weekend?’.”

Whether it’s his affinity for working on the water, quick problem solving ability, or willingness to rush to someone’s aid in the middle of the night, Mr Marshall is not entirely certain about what draws him to the job.

“I don’t know what my constitution is, I don’t know why, it’s just one of those things that I can do. I can get up in the middle of the night and go and do it, and I have a very understanding wife in that situation,” he said.

Best rescue call outs include helping ‘panicked parents’

“It’s a sense of satisfaction knowing I’ve just gone and done something for someone that they needed to happen.

“I like the fact that in the Albury-Wodonga area that heaven forbid if something happens to someone at that time in the morning, they know there’s a good crew, they know is going to turn up and help them.”

Mr Marshall said he has the rare ability to analyse a scene from a logical perspective, then set about resolving it in a practical and grounded way - a major factor he credits in having successful outcomes.

His favourite jobs include those where parents have worked themselves into a panic over their children becoming stuck in furniture or something similar.

“You can get a little chuckle out of them because parents, especially when it’s their own, panic,” he said.

Paul Marshall (left) was presented with National Volunteer Officer of the Year in Canberra in October. Source: NSW Volunteer Rescue Association Inc.

“You just take a moment, calm everybody down and two minutes later, the problem’s solved and everybody’s laughing and the mum’s crying and embarrassed.

“Those are the jobs where they just need an external cool head to go ‘that’s ok, we can sort this out, don’t worry about it’.”

While Mr Marshall obviously didn’t become a volunteer for the accolades or recognition, he said it was a humbling surprise when his contributions were recognised.

This year in the Rotary NSW Emergency Services Community Awards he was awarded the inaugural national Officer of the Year Working In a Volunteer Capacity award.

He also claimed the award for Officer of the Year with the New South Wales Volunteer Rescue Association.

“Those are the little things that are very unexpected. You don’t go in for the awards, but when they are received it is very humbling. It was an honour and a privilege.”

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