Tamatea old-boy finishes up as fire service leader
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.
Chief executive and national commander of the New Zealand Fire Service Paul Baxter at the Napier station.