Steve Shaw may have stepped down from the Cromwell Volunteer Fire Brigade’s top role but he is not hanging up his uniform any time soon.
The veteran firefighter of almost 35 years resigned as the brigade’s chief fire officer (CFO) in November. However he will still remain in active duty, moving into an operational support role.
After 14 years as CFO, he felt it was time.
“For me, I never wanted to be in the role for more than 10 years but it turned into 14 years because of the restructure with Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz).
“Now that’s in place it was a good time for the brigade to be freshened up with news ideas and change.”
In 2017, the Fire and Emergency New Zealand Act 2017 came into force creating a single, unified fire services organisation by repealing the Fire Service Act 1975 and the Forest and Rural Fires Act 1977.
Mr Shaw joined the New Zealand Fire Service in Gore in 1987, after moving to Balclutha where he wanted to get involved in a service group.
The work the fire service did and the way it was appreciated by people appealed to him.
He transferred to the Cromwell Brigade via Alexandra as a senior firefighter in August 1997 and was promoted to the position of station officer shortly after.
He became deputy fire chief in 2001 before taking on the role of chief fire officer in 2007.
The step up was quite different for him.
“It was quite an eye-opener. You never know what’s involved until you get into it.
“As a chief or brigade leader you go into a different mode,” he said.
“As a firefighter [when the siren goes off] it all just kicks into gear and you go into that mode of `that’s it, off you go’.
“For me it is about . . . making sure we’ve got people responding safely, making sure they’re coming home from incidents,” he said.
“The firefighters look after the incident – my job is to look after the firefighters.”
In his time as CFO, Mr Shaw championed the wellbeing and training of the brigade’s volunteers, introducing a structured rostered system where duty crews took turn about responding to incidents and attending to duties around the station.
“That has been successful because the members have ownership over what they do. For me it’s important to empower the team,” Mr Shaw said.
It was the strength of relationships – and the support of his family – that caused him to remain in the fire service for more than three decades.
“The relationships you have with the people, the people that you help, the membership and other volunteers around the country you meet, it’s something that’s quite unique.
“Anyone who joined when I did, the family joined by default,” he said.
“Our kids grew up in the fire brigade. They’ve never known anything different.”
The brigade’s new CFO Neil Gillespie said to be an operational firefighter for 34 years and seven months was an “extraordinary achievement by anyone’s standards”.
“His efforts saw the members collectively own and champion operational skills management to which we see the many benefits of today,” Mr Gillespie said.
In November last year Mr Shaw was presented with the inaugural Euan Hildyard and David Bolch Memorial Award in recognition of outstanding contributions to the Cromwell Volunteer Fire Brigade.