The horrors that Senior Constable Steve Adams and Detective Matt Clancy have seen working in police homicide, the bomb squad and the rescue squad will stay with them forever.
But last month there was a brighter moment as the Springwood-based officers were recognised for courageous acts in the Mountains last year, taking out the top accolades for the region.
Detective Clancy (pictured below) was nominated by his fellow officers for outstanding courage and police work during the October bushfires and Senior Constable Adams’ name was put forward by the father of Gary Tweddle, who with 70 other friends and family, had leaned heavily on the officer for support in the weeks following the July disappearance of his son in Leura.
David Tweddle cited the officer’s compassion, understanding and “unorthodox approach” to his family during their time of need, as reasons for the community nod for top cop.
Gary Tweddle’s body was found off a cliff near the Fairmont Resort seven weeks after he went missing. His girlfriend Anika Haigh and other members of her family were on hand to congratulate Snr Const Adams at the awards evening on March 26.
“We don’t get too many compliments in the cops,” Snr Cnst Adams said. “But I was more chuffed that they [Anika and her family] had driven all the way from Newcastle to be there.”
Snr Const Adams, 51, was still nursing a shoulder injury from a Springwood pub brawl in 2012 and on “light traffic duties”, when he was assigned the large Tweddle group to look after. After 20 years working in police rescue, including assisting in the rescue of Thredbo landslide survivor Stuart Diver, he made an unorthodox decision to let the Tweddle group help in a small, safe search to keep them busy while 1000 others searched more dangerous terrain. He was the first to warn them on day four to “prepare themselves” and also later made the phone calls to Ms Haigh and Gary’s parents confirming the worst.
Fellow award recipient Detective Clancy said the ‘police family’ always worked as a team and there were many moments when protecting life and property had proven difficult. But the Blue Mountains community rallied in tough times, witnessed during the Tweddle disappearance and last year’s October fire storms.
Because of hot weather and winds on October 17 last year, the normally plain-clothed officer came to work in fire retardant overalls instead.
During the 17-hour shift that followed, the 42-year-old cop who was first on the scene, ended up manning a fire brigade’s hose, saving countless properties, calming a stricken community and all the while worrying about the safety of his own children being evacuated from a nearby primary school.
He had responded within minutes to the first emergency message over police radio and arrived at Linksview Road, Springwood, “in a surreal environment where everything’s on fire and there’s no fire trucks”.
“It was a miracle lives weren’t lost. I did a lot of thinking on my feet that day ... we were managing chaos ... there were tremendous acts of bravery by many people.”
Just a year before those fires he “went through what no police officer wants to go through ... doing CPR for half an hour” on stabbed colleague, Hawkesbury Inspector Bryson Anderson, who later died. He also worked for a year on the harrowing Keisha Abrahams murder at Mt Druitt. Six-year-old Keisha had been beaten to death by her mother, then left in a suitcase before being burnt and buried in bush.
“You become good at carrying on,” he said simply.
More than 30 officers were nominations for the awards, sponsored by Rotary. Both winners will vie in November for the annual NSW Police Officer of the Year titles.