AFTER feeling powerless to help a dying man, Gary Thompson decided to embark on what would become a successful 35-year career in the police force.
"In about 1970, we were driving to Coffs and came across a fatal accident," the Blackbutt resident said.
A truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and eventually died after swerving off the road.
"He died in my arms basically," Mr Thomspon said.
The event inspired the now 61-year-old to enter the police force.
"I felt so helpless," he said.
"I couldn't help him.
"I didn't have the skills to help him so I decided I wanted to do something with my life to help people.
"I found that avenue with police rescue."
Mr Thompson, a former senior constable, retired in July last year.
He spent 17 years in the police rescue squad at Wollongong, from 1980 to 1997, which he described as "the highlight of my career".
He spent 17 years with the Lake Illawarra Local Area Command [LAC].
Mr Thompson was among those honoured at the command's medals and awards ceremony last Thursday at Kiama, receiving the National Police Service Medal.
"I just like the fact that you are helping people that are in need," he said of the police rescue role.
"Jumping over cliffs to rescue girls who nearly drowned, extracting deceased persons from motor vehicle accidents . . . it was a very demanding job. Demanding but exhilarating."
The other recipient of the National Police Service Medal was Detective chief inspector Daniel Sharkey.
The Kiama resident is about to retire after 35 years' service.
The 57-year-old began his career at Redfern and worked in western Sydney and Cootamundra, in the Riverina, before he joined the Lake Illawarra Local Area Command 19 years ago. He was awarded the Australian Police Medal in June.
He enjoyed the job because "every day is different".
"You get to meet good and bad people, within and outside the police organisation," he said.
"The good far outweighs the bad.
"I've had a pretty good career. I'm pleased with the rank I achieved, and to get the APM was pretty humbling as well."
Superintendent Wayne Starling, the Lake Illawarra LAC commander, said the event focused on recognition, not only of the work by police officers but also the support of their families.
■ Other winners were-
*Administration Officer Award: Patricia Nicholson (15 years), Anne Labone (30 years).
*2010-11 Queensland Flood and Cyclone Citation: Senior Constable Robert Worrall.
*Lake Illawarra Local Area Commander’s Merit Award: Senior Constable John Webb, Senior Constable Kane Cooper.
*Lake Illawarra Local Area Commander’s commendations- Acting Inspector Steven Worthington, Sergeant Brett White, Senior Constable Adam Herron, Detective Senior Constable Troy Cooper, Senior Constable John Webb, Leading Senior Constable Paul Winston, Detective Senior Constable Sebastian Herft, Senior Constable Bradley Fuller, Senior Constable Phillip Hamilton, Constable Daniel Potts, Senior Constable John Webb, Sergeant Lee Paterson, DEMO Dianne Gordon.
*Local Area Commander’s Unit Citation: Constable Daniel Potts, Sergeant Shane Brown, Sergeant Gary Castles, Sergeant Gary Keevers, Sergeant Brett White, Senior Constable Mark Deans.
*Region Commander’s Commendation and Merit Award: Sergeant Gary Keevers, Detective Senior Constable Daniel Palmer, Senior Constable Michael Kingma, Constable Glen Robertson, Senior Constable Kelly Schirmer and Constable Damon Van Der Merwe.
*Commissioner’s Sesquicentenary Citation: Constable Damon Van Der Merwe.
*Robert Faulkner Memorial Award/Internal Investigation SF METTER/Annual Detective’s Board Award 2011/12: Emma Wilson.
*Commissioner’s Certificate of Merit: Senior Constable Reece Trudgett.
*NSW Police Medal- ten years: Senior Constable Leanne Barrett.