He’s spent 25 years serving the county with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, and now Paul Shaw can’t wait to hit the continent on his trusty motorbike as he prepares to take off his tunic one final time.
Paul, originally from Manchester but who has lived in the county for the last 20 years, has been putting out fires and carrying out rescues since initially joining the RAF as a firefighter in 1988. In total, he has spent some 32 years with various fire services since leaving the air force.
He’s spent at least six months at most of the whole-time stations across Staffordshire during his time. Since 2018 he has called Lichfield Community Fire Station his home and will officially retire as Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Fire Investigation Lead and Station Manager for Lichfield this weekend.
I’m really, really proud to have served as a firefighter. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I still get a bit anxious now knowing I am retiring.
“I’ve had a great working relationship with the staff in Lichfield,” said Paul, who currently lives in Eccleshall. “They’ve been absolutely fantastic while I’ve been here.
“There are a number of people who have supported me through some ‘black dog days’, where dips in mental health have kicked in. They’re linked to incidents I have attended in the past. They’ll know who they are. They’ve supported me through the bad times and through some of the good times as well.
“The support we get from the service and from the Fire Fighters Charity as well is absolutely fantastic.”
And he is proud of the service his crews have been able to provide the city and surrounding areas since his arrival.
“Instantly you’re thinking about the response. Those engines flying out of the doors. That blue-light response is absolutely key to the community and all of Staffordshire. But we also do a lot of preventative and protect work within our business communities and within homes where we are fitting smoke alarms and giving advice. This is absolutely critical to reducing fire deaths in Staffordshire.
“I’m really, really proud to have served as a firefighter. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I still get a bit anxious now knowing I am retiring. But the person who follows me can make an impact like I hopefully have made an impact on this community.”
Paul has fought countless fires, undertaken rescues and other critical work of a firefighter in his time. Some serious, and some…less so.
“We’ve had incidents where jewellery items have been found on people’s bodies and have had to be removed,” he added. “Genuinely the most fun times I have had here is working jobs. It could be rescuing kittens or ducklings, or whatever it may be. I’ve been to hundreds of RTCs, fought hundreds of fires. But it’s always those jobs saving animals’ lives or people’s lives which are really important to me.
“But you see a lot of things. Incidents involving children in particular stay with you.
“One of the most significant jobs, which involved many, many resources, was the Stafford Plastics fire,” Paul recalled of the fatal incident at the fireworks factory in the county town which claimed two lives in October 2014.
“Unfortunately, two members of the public lost their lives in that incident. We wanted to try and recover those bodies as quickly as possible for the families, and we managed to do that. It was a really arduous job. Those incidents really stick in your mind.”
He’s not putting his feet up just yet – more his pedal down. An avid motorcyclist, Paul is already planning on building on a former trip with friends and colleagues travelling along Route 66 in America and has his eyes set this time on Europe.
“Covid has pretty much taken away my interactions with my friends and family for the past 18 months,” he says. “So I am going to bore them to death with my presence for the next 18 months!
“I don’t have any plans to work. I will be touring the UK and Europe on my motorbike, I will be trying to get myself a little fitter than I am now, and just enjoying life.
“Covid has taught me, as I am sure it has taught a lot of people, about life and how important family and friends are. So that’s exactly what I am going to be doing.”
The pride of service shone through from Paul as he looked back on his career with a smile. And he also had a call to arms to anyone else who may be looking to forge a similar career for themselves.
“Please join the fire service, have a go at it,” he said. “And just keep going. I didn’t get in first time. It took me a number of times to get in.
“It’s the best career you could ever, ever imagine. The camaraderie is absolutely amazing, and I will take away from this job some really close friends.”