After 56 years, 9188 callouts and multiple awards, Winston Steen has stepped away from an active role with the Cambridge Volunteer Fire Brigade.
It was time, he says. He’s given a great deal to the community, had some ‘good saves’ and taken an enviable family legacy to the next level. When added to the 40 years’ service his father Tom Steen gave to the brigade, and the 31 from Winston’s brother Ken, the Steen family have put in a remarkable 127 years to helping others in their community.
“I think it’s probably one of the longest tenures by a single family,” Winston said with quiet pride. He is proud, too, of “the exceptionally talented group” that makes up what he describes as one of the best brigades in the country, and insists that much of the kudos must go to chief fire officer Don Gerrand, and to the other firefighters, wives and girlfriends who have provided steadfast support through the years.
“We couldn’t do what we do without them, and what an honour it has been to be associated with everyone over my time.”
It was in November 1963 that Winston joined the brigade. He was working at Steen & Morrow, the business started by his father, and found himself helping at the brigade’s annual fireworks fundraiser.
“In that first month, I attended five callouts, and in my first year, a total of 72. Now, we get around 340 – I think the peak has been 380 a year. My first callout was to a fire in Jonathan Foley’s photography shop in Duke Street, and the biggest was probably the one out at St Peter’s School in April 1984 … they lost a complete block of rooms.”
Other significant fires he attended include St Andrew’s Church in the early 1960s, Paramount in Carter’s Flat, Hamilton Hotel in Frankton and the Tamahere Coolstore fire in 2008. There have been fires in schools and churches, rescues of dogs down banks, a cow down a well and, of course, cats up trees. “You never see a dead cat up a tree,” he reasoned with a smile.
There was also a run of arsons at one stage, but it was when the fire service signed up to respond to St John calls around 2015 that the tempo changed. Did that move increase the callout rate? Winston said: “Hell yeah! In that first year there were 50 callouts just for the ambulance. It changed things for sure.”
He’s been deputy chief fire officer since 2001 and has worked with four chief fire officers – Jack Morris, Gordon Brunskill, Graham Howarth, and since 1994, Don Gerrand.
Winston began by wanting to do something for his community; he’s deeply grateful to his family and the staff at Steen & Morrow who’ve enabled him to do that. He has scooped 12 wins in the annual brigade competitions in Victoria Square, and was awarded his 50-year medal a few years ago.
Don Gerrand said of his legacy: “He has a great attendance record with the brigade and has been a great deputy to me. The service has been a large part of his life … he has been very loyal.”