When plumes of smoke could be seen from the small township of Learmonth just weeks ago, genuine panic swept through the town.
Leading Senior Constable David Kelly’s first thought was “not again” – minutes later the CFA told him it was a planned burn.
Almost a year to the day after the town came close to being razed by the Mount Bolton bushfire, residents remain on the edge.
The town’s sole cop – Leading Senior Constable Kelly – is the one the residents turn to when they are in need.
Leading Senior Constable Kelly started off as a junior constable in Fitzroy. A country boy, born and bred, he was drawn back to small police stations.
“I love the freedom – being part of the community and feeling like I can make a difference,” Leading Senior Constable Kelly says.
He lives at the house at the back of the police station – with his wife, a former officer. His children are grown up.
“The town was really anxious this fire season,” Leading Senior Constable Kelly said.
“I just chat to them – I go to the farmers and make sure they know the days to do work and the days not to.
“We have community meeting and debriefs – we let them know what’s going on.”
Being the only police officer is rewarding, but it can be challenging. Leading Senior Constable Kelly is never really off duty.
He heads to the pub as David – but locals still ask him policing questions. When he’s on leave, he makes sure he leaves Learmonth.
He also knows everyone.
“There’s always that fear – that you’ll go to a fatal accident and it will be someone you know,” Leading Senior Constable Kelly said.
He’s often the first one on scene, there before the ambulance. If it’s a fatal collision it becomes a crime scene.
“You have to preserve the scene, make sure people don’t drive across skid mark and that the occupants are out of the vehicle.
“If you know someone, it’s a ripple effect. The family keeps coming to you and talking to you – it’s ongoing.
The fire season is nearly over, but Leading Senior Constable Kelly said it remained vitally important that residents were vigilant and that they reported suspicious behaviour.
“If they see us out there, people generally get the message,” Senior Constable Kelly said.