At 07:00 hours on Sunday 16 September 2018 at Eastern Fire Station, firefighter Velma Sims-Stewart was paraded off duty for the very last time. After almost 27 years of service, Velma retired from Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service and also the British Fire Service.
Velma started her career with London Fire brigade, working out of Norbury Fire Station. She faced many challenges as a black woman in the fire and rescue service, however, her unique talent for social interaction and sheer common sense engendered her to staff and members of the community on many levels.
In 1996, Velma attended Canary Wharf after a massive terrorist bomb had left the area and community devastated. This was a real eye opener to her as to how life could be so vulnerable. She also worked out of North Kensington Fire Station where she quickly became a popular member of the watch, station and community.
Velma joined Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service in 2002 and worked out of Oakham Fire Station. The change in scenery came as something of a mild surprise, swapping the hustle and bustle of a city full of people, the red London buses and black taxis to the tranquil green leafy country lanes of Oakham. Velma settled into her new life with her family, enjoying the slower pace of life which allowed her to indulge in another passion, supporting young people and young offenders within Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.
Velma transferred to Eastern Fire Station and was there for the past 16 years. During this time, she has been vocal and not shied away from issues that have a direct impact on women and minorities within the fire and rescue service, both locally, regionally and nationally. In her effort to support the Service to help make it a better place for everyone to work in harmony, she has made many connections with all communities, mentored and supported colleagues and engaged with members of the public who have an interest in taking up the role of a firefighter, or working within other areas of the Service. Even in the last few months of her career, Velma has been instrumental in supporting and guiding the new network groups initiated by the Service.
So, to Sunday 16 September when Velma finally hung up her boots for the last time. She was escorted to the appliance bay where, for the last time, she stood on parade taken by her station manager and Carl St-Paul – the man credited with starting the first support group for black and minority fire and rescue service staff some twenty years ago. He and others from London travelled in the very early hours of the morning to be present at Velma’s last parade at 07:00 hours.
Eastern Fire Station crews plus Carl, Ludwig Ramsey from Scotland, Dalton Powell from Nottingham Fire and Rescue Service and other fire and rescue service staff from London, including minority members of the local community, turned out to wish Velma farewell at 07:00 hours – this instigated a second of emotion from her eyes. It was an unforgettable moment with the crews saluting her off station whilst the Jamaican flag flew on the flagpole above – a fitting way to conclude a wonderful career. Velma will be missed and never forgotten for being that positive role model we all aspire to be.
From your colleagues and friends, we simply want to say thank you and enjoy the next chapter of your wonderful life with your family and friends.
Also, in keeping with Velma’s lifting as you climb mantra, Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service will soon be recruitment Wholetime Firefighters, and are hoping to attract all members of our communities who have an interest in becoming a firefighter. We are especially looking for people from all of our diverse communities across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland to join our team.
For more information on careers at Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, please visit www.leicestershire-fire.gov.uk/recruitment