AFTER 35 years as the deputy captain of the West Tamworth Fire Station, Steve Graham has hung up his helmett and is enjoying the opportunities to get a decent night’s sleep.
Mr Graham retired on his 58th birthday on January 31, after devoting his entire firefighting career to the West Tamworth station.
He still works fulltime, however, as the manager of Taminda Smash Repairs, so is still kept busy – only now he doesn’t have to jump out of bed “at all hours” to go into work as an on-call firefighter.
He started his career in 1977 as a retained firefighter, working his way up to deputy captain in the year 2000, and had worked alongside captains Brian Howard and Col Graham.
Mr Graham’s first job was at the Frasier Saw Mills. He started working in a smash repairs shop at the age of 15.
He said working as a firefighter was a “very demanding” job, and the West Tamworth station was one of the busiest fully retained stations in the state, with more than 700 callouts a year.
“It’s sad to hang up the uniform. On reflection, it’s like a chapter of my life has closed,” Mr Graham said.
“I left because I just thought it was time. I’d had a good run. I just felt like sitting back a little bit.
“I spent a lot of time there, and there’s a lot of good young kids coming through there now.”
He has attended about 10,000 house fires, grass fires and bushfires in his more than 35-year firefighting career.
Major local incidents to have happened in that time including a dust explosion in the ’80s at the Fielders flour mill in Marius St, Wests’ Diggers being extensively damaged by fire in 1988, and a major and potentially disastrous explosion at the Elgas plant in Peel St which led to “half of East Tamworth” being evacuated, after a pipe split and gas caught alight.
He said there had been many changes to firefighting work over the years – for instance, instead of rushing into a house fire to extinguish it, firefighters now have to carry out risk and safety assessments beforehand.
There have also been huge developments in personal safety on the firefighting front, and technology has evolved in leaps and bounds.
When he started in the job, no one used breathing apparatus, and, before the age of mobile phones and pagers, he used to have a “house bell” installed in his home to respond to callouts.
Captain Howard described Mr Graham as “a top firefighter and a good bloke” who everyone was going to miss.
For his part, Mr Graham said he definitely wasn’t missing the early-morning starts – but he is relishing getting a full nights’ sleep.
He thanked captains Howard and Col Graham –the only two captains to have worked at the West Tamworth station while Steve Graham was there –for their help and assistance over the years.
He lives in Tamworth with his wife, Lyn; they marked their 40th wedding anniversary on Saturday.