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Issue No. 411 March 2017

Double view of disaster

Police officers who are also volunteer firefighters had a unique view of the fires.

Four of the 16 members of West Melton Volunteer Rural Fire Force (WMVRFF) are Police staff, and a fifth is in the recruitment pipeline.

West Melton’s Police firefighters, from left: Constable Brett Neal, Constable Scott McLachlan, Inspector John Doherty, Constable Chris Caldwell and applicant Nick Imrie.

Inspector John Doherty, a shift commander in South Comms and WMVRFF chief, says they all found themselves on the fire ground during the emergency – in some cases for both policing and firefighting duties.

“Some of them did four to five days in a row, working night shifts, day shifts, 12 hours at a time. It was pretty full-on for them. In the early days it was particularly hard work.”

John was starting a cycle of six shifts in South Comms as the fire was taking hold.

“As it started to develop with multiple fronts it was clear evacuations were required, so we coordinated with the DCC, frontline staff and others across Police, working out which houses needed to be evacuated.

“When these things start there’s always a lot of confusion – you need to get a handle on what’s happening and get staff to the right places.”

John made it to the fire ground at Early Valley Road on day six. “We were tasked with going round the house boundaries making sure nothing had been missed close to the houses.

“Some property owners were returning. They were expecting to come back to a pile of rubble but in many cases their houses had survived. I think it was quite emotional for a lot of people there.

“It was good to have that one-on-one contact with people.”

Next page: Snapshots from the front line

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