5 May 2022

'A job still had to be done': Jindy cop honoured for role during Black Summer, pandemic

| Claire Fenwicke
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Det Sgt Bradley Hughes

Detective Sergeant Bradley Hughes at Blue Lake in Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: Det Sgt Bradley Hughes.

Jindabyne’s Detective Sergeant Bradley Hughes sounded almost embarrassed when congratulated for winning an award at one of the most prestigious events on the NSW Police Force calendar.

“It’s nice to be recognised, but it’s a team effort nonetheless. I’m basically just doing what we do day in, day out,” he said.

The Monaro officer was recently named Regional NSW Field Operations Police Officer of the Year at the annual Rotary awards.

The award recognises “policing excellence” but Det Sgt Hughes joked he imagines it’s also for “being a nice bloke”.

“No, I think it stems from running the snow seasons, plus I helped co-ordinate the 2019/20 bushfires response [and] I created the COVID plan for our ski resorts, which is now being adopted throughout other resorts,” he said.

“So a range of things really.”

READ ALSO Cooma professor among first NSW Blue Plaque recipients

The police officer started his stint in blue on the Northern Beaches but managed to secure a transfer to the Jindabyne station in 2015 after moving his family to the area the year before.

“We’d been coming here since forever and thought it was probably the best place to raise our kids,” Det Sgt Hughes said.

“The transfer was hard to come by; I spent the first few months commuting back to Sydney and staying on friends’ couches.

“But 15 February 2015, I walked through the doors of the Jindabyne Police Station and didn’t look back.”

He had to refresh a few skills and learn some new ones as a ‘beat cop’ in the area, particularly when it came to navigating the Snowy Mountains’ backcountry for search and rescue efforts.

“I didn’t know how to work a compass, but I do now,” he said.

“You’re always going out in really average conditions; no one gets lost on a blue bird day.”

But it’s his recent work throughout the bushfires and the pandemic that earned him further recognition.

Detective Sergeant Bradley Hughes accepting the NSW Regional Field Officer of the Year award at the Rotary Police Officer of the Year Awards.

Detective Sergeant Bradley Hughes accepting the NSW Regional Field Officer of the Year award at the Rotary Police Officer of the Year Awards. Photo: NSW Police.

He was working as a Local Emergency Services Controller (LEOCON) during the Black Summer bushfires on 23 January 2020 when the news came through that a large air tanker had crashed.

“We were in a briefing when the radio message came through that it had crashed; it was a large shock to everyone,” he said.

He immediately began coordinating the response to the crash.

“A job still had to be done; the whole area was a ring of fire, we had to get into the site in an active fire ground; so there were a lot of moving parts,” he said.

“Plus on top of that you had to keep everyone’s emotions in check and your own in check.”

Once it was established there were no survivors from the crash on the ground, Det Sgt Hughes then needed to launch a police inquiry into the incident.

“In the aftermath and subsequent investigation, I was liaising with the ATSB (Australian Transport Safety Bureau) and overseas agencies, as those three guys who perished were U.S. military, so I was working with embassies,” he said.

“They were very long and draining days; it will be something I will never forget.

“I didn’t realise until the end of it all how much it affected me; I don’t like seeing fire-affected areas when I drive through them.”

READ ALSO Report finds Indigenous Australians disproportionally affected by Black Summer bushfires

Straight off the back of the stressful bushfire season came the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic situation.

“Ah, COVID, it’s a funny beast,” Det Sgt Hughes said.

“With bushfires and floods you can see the threat, but with COVID you couldn’t.”

Det Sgt Hughes worked with Department of Health officials and local ski resorts to figure out how to best respond to the pandemic and police the new rules that came into effect.

“We obviously had to adhere to current health directions, which were changing throughout, so trigger points had to be identified and crafted into each response … we looked at capacity numbers, what would happen should an outbreak occur,” he said.

“We also worked with the resorts, which are commercial businesses, so with that comes the obligations for their employees and guests.

“It was a unique experience, but one I don’t want to go through again.”

As Australia continues to transition to living with COVID, Det Sgt Hughes is looking forward to the upcoming snow season.

“We’ve been in crisis mode for a while, so it’s good we’re getting back to normal,” he said.

“A lot of people are unsure what to do, and [some COVID measures] were controversial to some people, so it’s just a matter of mending those bridges and fundamentally get back to normal.

“We’re civic leaders here; people look to us to see how we’re reacting, so we’ve just got to keep positive.”

At the end of the day, Det Sgt Hughes said it’s his team that deserves the praise.

“The guys here often work on their own time; they’re the guys you want knocking on your door when you need something, they have a vested interest in the community,” he said.

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