BY ANTHONY DOWSLEY
Sunday Herald Sun
A hero police officer who saved dozens of lives in the Black Saturday bushfires is seeking compensation from Victoria Police.
Leading Senior Constable (LSC) Camerom Caine, who was awarded a Victoria Police Valour Award and an Order of Australia Medal for his heroism, says the force was negligent leaving him “one up” or working solo.
He has been unable to work for the past 13 months as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sen-Constable Caine risked his life at the face of the 2009 fires, working 30 hours to get locals to safety. Within two hours he identified 11 people, some of the friends, who perished in the inferno.
It has led to Sen-Constable Caine seeking compensation from Victoria Police. His writ is yet to be lodged, but will state the force was negligent for keeping him on 30-hour shift while refusing to send extra officers to help at the high point of the carnage.
He soldiered on alone from 4am to 9am after his police partner, who started before him, was ordered to finish his shift. Scores of police nearby, in Whittlesea and Seymour, were deployed elsewhere.
“We were made to do it ourselves,” Sen-Constable Caine said.
He said then chief commissioner Simon Overland personally apologised for leaving him to battle solo. But the now 47-year-old can no longer work operationally or deal with conflict, bodies or fire.
He said his years of frontline policing after Black Saturday proved particularly tough: “I got to the point I started yelling at my colleagues.
“It wasn’t just me. The anger was massive. I couldn’t sleep. I still don’t sleep. I lost myself on February 7, 2009. That’s the big thing. I miss me.”
He admits the strain on his wife, Laura and their two sons has been great. “My family has been walking on eggshells because of the anger issues,” he said.
In an effort to cope, he sees medical practitioners regularly.
He continues to live in Kinglake, where he lives on 2ha he cherishes, but every day he passes places where he witnessed devastation of both property and people.
Sen-Constable Caine said although he had been given support, officers who suffered from PTSD were not given a clear pathway to rejoin the ranks.
He said one of the issues he faced was that to be reassigned to a police desk job, he first had to work again in Kinglake.
He said: “It’s like getting cancer at Chernobyl, getting cured and getting sent back to Chernobyl.”
He said doctors had warned him if he returned to operational police duties his health would suffer.
“I can’t give anymore. I’m burnt out. I’ve given all I can,” he said.
His lawyer, Harry Gill, a principal at Robinson Gill lawyers, said “In 35 years as a personal injury lawyer I’ve never read a statement that has driven me closer to tears. Cameron was left to his own devices in unimaginable circumstances. He sought assistance but got nothing from police command,” he said
This article is re-published (unedited) with permission from the author, Anthony Dowsley, and Sunday Herald Sun (27 January) in the public interest. Kinglake Ranges News sincerely thanks Dowsley and News Ltd for permission to republish.
The ordinal article is available online at news.com.au or in today’s Sunday Herald Sun on pages 9, 24 and 25.