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Compassionate and dedicated firefighter retires after 35 years of service

Watch manager Stuart Baxter, who is retiring after 35 years in the Norfolk Fire Service, at the Dereham Fire Station. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Watch manager Stuart Baxter, who is retiring after 35 years in the Norfolk Fire Service, at the Dereham Fire Station. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2019

He has seen some of the biggest fires to hit the county.

Dereham Fire Station. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYDereham Fire Station. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Now Stuart Baxter, a retained firefigher based in Dereham, is hanging up his helmet for the final time after dedicating 35 years to the service.

Born in Swaffham, the 60-year-old relocated to Toftwood after he married his wife Debbie in 1982.

He first became interested in working as a firefighter after a neighbour suggested it.

He said: "He did retained duties and said I would be suited for it. He asked if would I put myself forward. It took another year, but I finally did."

Watch manager Stuart Baxter, who is retiring after 35 years in the Norfolk Fire Service, at the Dereham Fire Station. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYWatch manager Stuart Baxter, who is retiring after 35 years in the Norfolk Fire Service, at the Dereham Fire Station. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Mr Baxter began working for the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service on June 11, 1984, and will finish exactly 35 years to the day this June 11.

He progressed in his career during the early 1990s, moving from a leading firefighter to watch manager.

Although he noted the skills for the job remain the same - being practical and having a sense of compassion, common sense, people skills and empathy - he said training has come on considerably.

"When I joined I had an induction of a weekend in Wymondham, now they will spend two weeks at Bowthorpe. The training has vastly changed."

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Some of his positive memories include saving a thatched roof in Shipham in the late 1980s. He also recalls attending a serious road accident on the A47 where he stayed in contact with one of the injured passengers. Years later he was invited to her wedding.

More "heartbreaking" memories he has is of accidents involving children or people who have sustained burns.

"Without Debbie's commitment and understanding to the fire service and myself, I couldn't have done it.

"I've left her at all hours. In restaurants with no money, and it was especially hard when the children - Jordan and Celine - came along.

"The crew we have had over the years have all been exceptionally supportive.

"I've always tried to make sure their wellbeing and welfare is paramount and to treat them with the upmost respect.

"We've always been a good, hard-working bunch, conscientious of the people of Dereham."

READ MORE: Firefighters in Norfolk are taking four times more sick days for mental health reasons compared to three years ago.

The trained childcare practitioner, and former mechanic, he estimated that he has attended more than 12,000 incidents and around 1,600 drill nights.

Some of the biggest fires to happen during his three and a half decades include a large fire at King's Lynn docks and a devastating blaze at the E and S J Walpole factory in North Pickenham, 2014.

An advocate for positive mental health, especially those working in the fire service, he paid tribute to his late father, Brain, who died earlier this year, and his mother Jo, who lives in Swaffham.

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