SERGEANT John King has vivid memories of his first call-out with the Newcastle rescue squad.
It was not long after 10.27am on December 28, 1989, and the 5.6 magnitude earthquake that would leave an indelible mark on the city would also leave a mark on him.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Sergeant King said on the 40th anniversary of the Newcastle rescue squad.
“The thoughts are of the sadness that surrounded it, and removing the deceased from the Workers Club. You never forget it. It always stays with you.”
The squad celebrated its birthday on Tuesday at its Carrington base in a celebration that was attended by serving personnel as well as ex-members.
Formed in 1977 in the aftermath of the Granville rail disaster, the Newcastle rescue squad has one of the toughest jobs in the Hunter.
Its personnel are regularly tasked to grim scenes including fatal car crashes and body retrievals.
Sometimes they attend unknown scenes such as assisting detectives on search warrants and bomb threats.
And then there are the jobs they get the most enjoyment out of, like those where they reunite loved ones after a successful rescue.
Seargent King said the dedicated 13-person squad “lives and breathes” the variety of its work.
“You are saving lives, but there’s also the sad side, where people lose their lives,” he said.
“But, ultimately, it’s our team environment that puts a smile on our faces.
“It’s a very close team and we trust each other completely.”
Newcastle City commander Superintendent John Gralton said the rescue squad had done “a hell of a lot” for the Hunter with a proud history of serving the community.
You are saving lives, but there’s also the sad side, where people lose their lives.Newcastle rescue squad Sergeant John King
“They see a lot of different things, and they do have a very tough job, but they do it with the utmost professionalism,” he said.
Members of the original team recalled the formation of the squad in the wake of the Granville rail disaster.
“It was a political move,” Col Curry said. “But it was the right decision. There was only the ambulance Q-van in those days.”
Other original members were impressed with the technology improvements.
“It would have made our job a lot easier,” Jim Blackett said, referring to drones.