Lancelin Police 7
 
Devastating bushfires have captured the attention of West Australians in the early part of 2021 – the year many had been holding out hope for a return to normal programming following COVID-19’s decimation of 2020.
 
Crews of career and volunteer firefighters have been heroically saving properties and lives across the State and while the Wooroloo bushfire has been the most savage, the first bushfire emergency of the year began in Red Gully, near Lancelin.
 
For nearly 10 days, the bushfire burnt more than 10,000 hectares and had a perimeter of 136km. It took 600 career and volunteer firefighters and a couple of water bombers to bring it under control after it threatened to wipe out the communities 
of Seaview Estate, Ocean Farms and even Wedge Island. 
 
For the local police at Lancelin Police Station, this blaze saw them heavily involved in more ways than one. 
 
While Officer in Charge Sergeant Michael Paterson managed the police response at the bushfire incident control post, the other officers were stationed at vehicle control points and assisted with evacuation of Seaview and Ocean Farms estates when it 
appeared they were in the crosshairs of the blaze.
 
“There was concern the fire was going to hit those two estates and take out quite a few houses and there was a risk to life and property,” Sgt Paterson told Police News.
 
“If the fire had got into those estates, it would most likely have jumped Indian Ocean Drive and into the Lancelin Defence Training Area, which was indefensible, and had it got in there Wedge Island would have been under significant threat.” 
 
Sgt Paterson said the hard work of the firefighters and the fire retardant deployed from above kept damage to property at a minimum.
 
One of those firefighters working to contain the blaze was Lancelin First Class Constable Jake Hendry who along with First Class Constable Julian Jennings are members of the local volunteer fire brigade.
 
In between policing duties at the control post and the vehicle control points, First Class Constable Hendry completed shifts for the volunteer firefighters.
 
While he worked long hours, his commitment to the local community and helping to save property and life got him through.
 
“You kind of will yourself that you are helping people and making a difference and potentially saving lives and properties,” he said.
 
“There are days where I have knocked back stuff with the firies. There was a couple during Red Gully where I was up too long and I had to knock stuff back because if you keep going on limited sleep, you are kind of putting everybody else’s safety at 
risk if you are not 100 per cent.”
 
 
First Class Constable Hendry described the Red Gully blaze as massive.
 
“Had it not been for the aircrafts dropping the retardant that fire would have absolutely ripped through our community out near Ocean Farms and Seaview. At one point, they said there was an hour to the impact of those communities and you are sitting 
there, watching and waiting for it to come.” 
 
First Class Constable Jennings worked predominantly as a police officer during the Red Gully blaze however, he was on standby if the firefighters needed more help.
 
“It was touch and go because it was very dynamic in the sense of that we had two estates under direct threat,” he said.
 
“Stresses were high. Not knowing or only getting half an odd ear of what was going on and trying to sort of get an appreciation of how big it was and what I could do one, as a copper, and two, if I do get the call, as a firey.”
 
Luckily, those same aircraft who curtailed the Wooroloo fires were able to do the same in Lancelin and stop the fire in its tracks.
 
But the volunteer work did not stop there for the team at Lancelin. 
 
First Class Constable Hendry, in between his police work, was able to complete a shift helping save properties in Gidgegannup. 
 
He spent 12 hours fighting fires only metres away from him and properties on O’Brien Road in Gidgegannup. 
“We were driving along the road with flames either side of the road,” he said.
 
“We were there protecting properties because there was a number of properties on those roads and the fire was literally coming straight for them. 
 
“We were sitting, watching and waiting for this head fire that you know is coming to these properties and it is kind of surreal. It’s coming and you’ve got to put this out otherwise these properties are going to get destroyed. 
 
“It is frightening at times especially out there with the wind change and how often the wind changes. You think the fire is coming one way and then the next minute it is coming from the complete opposite direction and you are not prepared for it.”
 
 
LancelinFire3
 
Sgt Paterson said he was proud his team has a very strong relationship with the Lancelin community and the other emergency services.
 
“I’ve got two officers who are not only volunteer firefighters and marine rescue officers but they are also coppers so they were both able to manage their fatigue and their police duties and firefighting work and able to do bits of everything,” he said.
 
“We’ve got SJA, DFES and marine rescue volunteers here and some of our officers are members of all three of those as well as the police. We’ve got good relationships so when our firies or ambos are at jobs and they need police assistance you want to 
get out and help them. 
 
“They are the same people that we hang out with and are mates with every day around town. “If our people aren’t helping with their police hats on, often they are helping out with their other hats on. It makes the whole process of emergency management work much better when everybody knows each other and has good relationships with each other and communicates well with each other and to help each other out.”
First Class Constable Jennings said sometimes it can be difficult to manage his different roles but he was committed to helping the local community.
 
“We had a serious crash on the weekend where I was on duty anyway so I had to go in police uniform but then Jake on the other hand was off duty so, he went out with the VRFS,” he said.
 
“Juggling is not too bad but obviously when there are police jobs or police involvement, I will be doing the majority of it with us. If I am on leave or have the ability to go out with the VRFS then I will. 
 
“I don’t find it super fatiguing but when the big jobs are on you do, that’s for sure.”
 
So why do these police officers help by volunteering in the local community? The answer is simple, they want to and they want to feel part of the community.
 
“I wanted to help the community more and get an understanding of other emergency services and an appreciation of what we can offer them and what they can offer us. I wanted to give back to the community and see the community from another aspect,” First 
Class Constable Jennings said.
 
For First Class Constable Jennings, who first joined the volunteer fire brigade in Wagin, the chance to join the Lancelin volunteer fire brigade in June last year provided him the perfect opportunity to meet people in the town.
 
“When I came to Lancelin, the sport because of COVID wasn’t existing so with the firies I could get involved in the town that way. 
 
Normally, I would play football, play cricket.
 
“Being a firey is a good way of connecting to the local community not only just as a copper but others see you then as a volunteer firey and I guess then you are not always seen as a copper in the town, you are also seen as being a member of the community.
 
“The amount of people that I have met along the way has just been awesome. People get you more involved in the town as well because they have been there for years and years so getting a local supporting you, spreading the word about your good work 
ethic and being a good person, you become more involved in the town quite quickly. 
 
“I still have a lot of really good friends down in Wagin. I’ll be looking at going back as a copper but I still get invited back to social events and those sorts of things which is quite humbling to be honest.”
 
Like First Class Constable Jennings, First Class Constable Hendry also had previous volunteer fire brigade experience in Mullewa before arriving in Lancelin.
 
He said joining the fire brigade in Mullewa helped him feel a part of the community which benefitted him during his first post in regional WA.
 
“Obviously being police and firies, you are often turning out to the same jobs so it helped being able to go as a police officer and if there firies are a few crew members down, it’s easy just to jump across and help them out,” he said. 
 
“There was a house fire in Mullewa and I went to do traffic management and they were a few crew members down so I just jumped on a hose.”
 
And if fighting fires and being a copper was not enough, First Class Constable Hendry is also the Central Midlands Branch President for the WA Police Union.
Prior to that, he was Branch President of Murchison Branch and at the recent WAPU Annual Conference in November, he received his five-year service pin.
 
“It’s tough being a Branch President here because all our stations are over 100km apart, so to try and organise a meeting is a bit difficult,” he said.
 
“But it is a good Branch to run and everyone is quite heavily involved.”
 
First Class Constable Hendry said being involved in the Branch provided him opportunities to engage with fellow Members at other stations. 
 
“If I wasn’t involved with the Union as Branch President, I probably wouldn’t really know the officers at Dalwallinu, Moora or Gingin. 
 
“Gingin we work a bit with but Moora and Dalwallinu we don’t have a lot to do with but as Branch President you have to get to know everyone.”
 
Sgt Paterson said he hoped his team’s strong relationships with the community would continue even though there are going to be some vacancies in the next few months.
 
“We have a really great team here, very solid relationships with the other emergency service teams and a really close relationship with the community,” he said.
 
“If people are looking for a move to the bush which is still quite close to the city, Lancelin is going to have some vacancies advertised this year. We are that close to Perth that even Woolworths deliver groceries out here. 
 
“Although there are not the financial attractions in Lancelin, there is extremely good GROH housing, it is only an hour drive from the city and we’ve got a pretty good roster of days and afternoon shifts. If you love the outdoors there is plenty to do outside of work 
like surfing, fishing and four-wheel driving.
 
“Lancelin is a tight knit community and I have loved being a part of it since moving over from Merredin last year.”
 
 
Date: April 2021 
 
By Steven Glover