In the hot seat

Ian Stewart was awarded a Australia Fire Service Medal as part of the 2013 Australia Day awards.
Ian Stewart was awarded an Australia Fire Service Medal as part of the 2013 Australia Day awards.

Superintendent Ian Stewart, of the Rural Fire Service (RFS) experienced a January that was hectic, in anyone’s terms.

It finished with Mr Stewart granted the honour of being the recipient of the Australia Fire Service Medal as part of the 2013 Australia Day awards.

The lead up weeks to the announcement of his award though would press him to call on all of the 35-years experience he’s had with the Rural Fire Service (RFS).

Last October Mr Stewart arrived in Tumut having been appointed to the position of Fire Control Officer for the Riverina Highlands zone and was busily preparing the district to face the biggest fire season in years when he was commissioned by state authorities to attend more pressing threats around the country.

“It is a case of where the biggest threat is, I go” Mr Stewart said. “I was called up from leave and sent to Tasmania for their fires, then back to the Riverina Highlands zone as things started to heat up. Upon landing back in Sydney I was sent straight to the Shoalhaven as the incident controller for their fires.”

Starting off his working career as an engineer, Mr Stewart slowly moved, through restructuring and a refocus of where his carer interests lay, into a role within the RFS.

He loves the work and the people he works with during the day-to-day procedures whilst in times of emergency the volunteers on the front line keep him motivated and the position interesting.

Upon receiving word he was to be awarded the prestigious Australia Fire Service Medal, the humble Mr Stewart thought more of his fellow workers than what he had personally achieved.

“If I could dedicate the award it would be to the volunteers that I have worked with,” Mr Stewart said. “I do this job for the volunteers and the communities we are tasked with protecting. It has its challenges but it is also very rewarding.”

During his time with the RFS he has worked in various roles in a number of district positions across the state including Bega, Cooma Monaro, Eurobodalla, Tamworth, Great Lakes and most recently in the high pressure district of Shoalhaven.

Recognised widely for his incident management skills and his detailed knowledge of emergency arrangements in NSW, Mr Stewart’s appointment as incident controller at major fires across NSW, WA and Tasmania has been a natural progression for the quietly spoken Mr Stewart.

His responsibilities extend to a state level with his wealth of experience called upon when fires threaten life and property.

His commitment to keep the local district prepared and safe, though, is foremost now in Mr Stewart’s mind.

“I am looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience with the local district,” Mr Stewart said. “Already I think this is a good place to work. Tumut is a beautiful area and I have had a connection with the area for some time. I am looking forward to the change of pace and serving the community.

Mr Stewart’s honest manner and genuine way with words has moulded a man who can act in a senior position of responsibility, instructing hundreds of fire fighters and residents in the safest manner possible, in times of critical incidents, whilst still able to communicate at the root roots level with the common man.

“The RFS is about the volunteers, who in 40 plus degree heat go out and risk their lives to protect the property and well being of others,” Mr Stewart said.

“It was humblingtto receive the award as this is my job, I don’t do it for the recognition, it is what I do. I don’t see that it is about me, it is the volunteers and staff that deserve this.”

The Australian Fire Service Medal is not the first time Mr Stewart’s work has been commended.

In 2008 he was awarded a commendation for excellence in emergency operations by the Fire Services Joint Standing Committee for demonstrating the strong commitment to developing collaborative partnerships with emergency services.

Working previously as regional manager and regional learning and development officer, he has also acted as the manager of state operations during protracted fire operations and participated in policy formulation at state level.

“I appreciate that the RFS had given me opportunities that the average person doesn’t receive, I have enjoyed this job,” Mr Stewart said. “I don’t see my new position in Tumut as a step down from the Shoalhaven job as I chose to move, it is a way for me to share what I know.

As the incident controller in emergencies, responsibility sits upon the dedicated Mr Stewart’s shoulders. It is a constant companion and at times a heavy burden.

“When we are in times of catastrophic fire warnings we stop fighting the fires, as there is little we can do to control them, and concentrate on protecting the lives and property of the community they threaten,” he said.

“It is a huge responsibility but you have procedures and are guidelines you follow.

“The game has changed, particularly after Black Saturday, there is a lot more accountability and reporting to the state authorities. The main goal is to protect, that remains a constant.”