Tuesday 21 May 2019

Hansard of the Legislative Council
Tasmanian Emergency Service Personnel – Tribute

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, let me first of all welcome the member for Nelson to the Chamber.  I look forward to working with her.  Mr President, I was also a bit concerned about where my contributions to parliament would be made if I did not retain my seat over here.  At least with special interest contributions, I do not have to put up with a certain member who used to sit there and who, every time I got the call, would say 'Thank you, Mr President' - but thank you, Mr President.

I have a rather sad story to tell here today.  Tasmania's highly professional emergency service personnel are often taken for granted and not given the recognition they deserve.  Not only are they well trained in tackling often complicated situations and rapid decision-making, but they also demonstrate empathy and sensitive communication skills. 

I want to tell the House about a situation when most of our emergency services came together for a very delicate bush rescue operation north-east of Launceston, in the member for Windermere's electorate.  The incident happened on the afternoon of Saturday, 6 April on a private property near Nunamara; it is owned by my friend Mike Howe, an old fellow Fern Tree boy from years ago who worked with me at the ABC for 14 years. 

His 28-year-old son was getting firewood on the family property.  It was one of his favourite pursuits.  He would take his dog and ute to a favourite area with an abundance of suitable trees.  He was a very experienced and thoughtful bush worker.  He worked as a plantation harvester during the week on the north-west coast at Smithton.  He was a careful and skilful tree feller, but freak accidents in the bush happen, and Rowland Howe received a massive blow to his back from a falling tree under great tension.  He was knocked to the ground and trapped face down.  His dog Ella, a German shepherd, returned to the homestead and raised the alarm.

A triple zero call to the ambulance service was handled with the pertinent questions and advice.  Some serious decisions were made very quickly, including to despatch two ambulances, one of them a four-wheel drive, and, as is the case in most serious bush accidents, the Tasmania Fire Service was alerted.

First on the scene was the local St Patricks River fire captain, who could liaise with approaching ambulances by radio and alert two fire trucks and their crews.  A police team also arrived and cooperation between the emergency services was exemplary.  In all, 15 emergency service personnel were at the scene. 

Rowland was very carefully extricated and stretchered out of the bush with suspected spinal damage.  It was decided to call in the helicopter and Rowland was taken straight to Royal Hobart Hospital.

At all times, the paramedics, including a paramedic doctor, kept family members informed and a police evaluation of how the accident happened was communicated to the family.

Rowland's family were with him at the Royal Hobart Hospital where they were briefed several times by doctors.

Unfortunately, although no bones were broken, he had sustained critical internal injuries that resulted in inoperable internal bleeding.  He died 26 hours after the accident.

In these cases a painstaking coroner's report is compiled, which invariably makes recommendations to lessen the likelihood of a similar accident in the future.

Equipment such as safety gear and chainsaws are carefully examined and police working with the coroner's office take a number of interviews.  These were done with exceptional intelligence and sensitivity.

That is how Tasmania's emergency services work for our community and we are justifiably proud of them.  I will be communicating this speech to the Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management, to make sure he understands my recognition of the support of the emergency services personnel in this instance.