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Life of fighting fires

Then-Wairarapa fire safety officer Henry Stechman in 2007 at the site of the Masterton woolshed fire that killed over 500 sheep. PHOTO/FILE

JAKE BELESKI

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Henry Stechman has his ego to thank for the outstanding 44 years of dedication he has put towards the fire service in New Zealand.

Mr Stechman picked up a newspaper in 1974 and saw an advertisement asking for fit, keen, young, alert people to join the fire service.

It was all the encouragement the young man from the West Coast of the South Island needed to make up his mind, and he hasn’t regretted a single moment since.

Mr Stechman was recently made an honorary life member of the Masterton Fire Brigade.

About 17 of his 44 years of service had been spent in Wairarapa.

He will officially retire on October 1, but had enough leave saved up to finish in August.

Becoming an honorary life member was a “privilege”, he said.

“I was very pleased and proud to receive it.

“During my service in Fire and Emergency New Zealand, I’ve been all around — I’ve done some time in Wellington, Lower Hutt, Rotorua and of course Masterton.”

Mr Stechman served as the Wairarapa fire service assistant area commander, and was thankful for the opportunities his chosen line of work had provided.

He had spent time as an operational fire fighter before moving into fire risk management, or fire safety as it was previously known.

“I had lots of opportunities given to me to help educate and promote fire safety to people, which was very, very rewarding,” he said.

“I’ve worked with some absolutely amazing people, and you obviously get to help people in their time of need, and there’s no better feeling than helping the people who need it the most.”

Masterton had been home for a special part of his life, he said.

“Masterton has always been a special place to me and my career.

“A couple of years ago, Masterton District Council awarded me a community services award, and I was very pleased to receive that award too.”

Even after 44 years of service you could never be prepared for everything, and a big majority of his career was dedicated to fire risk management, he said.

“Fire safety is everybody’s job — not just the fire fighters’ — and everyone has to take some responsibility for it.

“There’s so many people out there doing great work in the community.”

Mr Stechman’s award was one of several received by members of the Masterton Fire Brigade, which were part of the UFBA (United Fire Brigades’ Association) honours.

The honours are usually given out annually but the Masterton branch had missed them for a couple of years due to “one thing or another”, meaning there were plenty of accolades to hand out this time.

Mr Stechman said it was a “humbling” experience to receive the award — which was voted on by members — and he would now look forward to the next chapter of his life.

“It’s time to move on to a new phase in my life, which means plenty of time for fishing and golfing,” he said.

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