Ta­matea old-boy fin­ishes up as fire ser­vice leader

The Napier Mail - - FRONT PAGE - ME­GAN HUNT

Paul Bax­ter, once a Ta­matea teen with dreams of fly­ing planes, has just fin­ished five years as head of the New Zealand Fire Ser­vice.

Bax­ter was born and raised in Napier, the youngest of four and one of the first gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents through Ta­matea High School.

He started his ca­reer in the fire ser­vice as a teen vol­un­teer with his eyes trained on the sky.

‘‘I wanted to fly, I wanted to be a pi­lot,’’ Bax­ter said.

But af­ter sign­ing up for the fire ser­vice his ca­reer be­came ground based, fight­ing flames and re­spond­ing to a grow­ing range of emer­gen­cies.

‘‘And I got hooked.’’

Bax­ter joined the de­fence force as a fire fighter, then re­turned to the New Zealand Fire Ser­vice when a role came up in Hawke’s Bay.

He served as the Napier chief, Hawke’s Bay re­gional com­man­der and has been the na­tional com­man­der for the last five years.

Bax­ter said his fo­cus was never on a top po­si­tion, but on do­ing the best in what­ever role he oc­cu­pied.

Over the years oth­ers en­cour­aged him to­wards pro­mo­tions.

‘‘I never had any as­pi­ra­tions to be the boss of the or­gan­i­sa­tion,’’ he said.

‘‘[I] just wanted to do the best I could ... my story is one of other peo­ple en­cour­ag­ing me to take the next step.’’

In the fi­nal weeks of his job as na­tional com­man­der Bax­ter stopped into the Napier and Hast­ings sta­tions.

He said it was ‘‘ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful’’ to be able to come back and spend a day out in the field with a crew led by of­fi­cer Peter Draper, once his boss when he worked in Napier.

The cur­rent sum­mer in Hawke’s Bay re­minded him of the 1997 to 1998 sum­mer, which he de­scribed as ’’hellishly hot’’ and there were a large num­ber of scrub and grass fires.

De­spite 35 years with the ser­vice Bax­ter’s pas­sion for fire fight­ing re­mained.

When speak­ing to new re­cruits he called it the ‘‘very best ca­reer in the world’’.

‘‘[We] help peo­ple when they need it most.’’

The best part about the job was be­ing able to make a dif­fer­ence for some­one, Bax­ter said.

Next month he will fin­ish with the New Zealand ser­vice and take up a role as the New South Wales fire com­mis­sioner.

ME­GAN HUNT

Chief ex­ec­u­tive and na­tional com­man­der of the New Zealand Fire Ser­vice Paul Bax­ter at the Napier sta­tion.

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