When Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Georgeina Whelan calls ACT Rural Fire Service Chief Joe Murphy, he answers the phone with an official-sounding “yes, Commissioner”.
The habit must bring a smile to the avid Batman fan who, after 33 years in ACT emergency services including leading the ACT Rural Fire Service (RFS) through the recent bushfire season, has decided to hang up his cape.
“It is a financial decision,” Mr Murphy said at today’s announcement. “It is the right time. It is about me now.
“I am 53 years young and I have a long way ahead of me. There are a lot of projects that I want to go and do. There are a whole lot of dragon boat ideas that I have, and a lot of cycling ideas and I have shared them with the Minister [Mick Gentleman].”
But even on the day that was supposed to be about him, the forthright and straight-talking Chief took the time to dedicate it to the volunteers and emergency services staff who worked tirelessly through the season to protect the ACT community.
“I want to point out that all frontline staff do a dangerous job. Fire is inherently dangerous so every frontline emergency service worker sees the best and the worst of the community every day,” he said.
“I think we should reflect on the fact that when the community is at their worst point, they are seeking our help and we are the rock in the middle of that turbulence and that is the role of every emergency service worker.
“Nothing is done individually. It is not about what I have done, it is about the team working together and getting things done.”
The ingrained sense of teamwork has come out of more than two decades of dragon boating, which a firefighting friend suggested to him when his partner was pregnant with his son.
Dedicating himself to his team – the Canberra Griffins – has only strengthened his focus on community, which included attending six town hall meetings over the last two months to reassure residents about what was being done to protect them from the fires.
“Over the two meetings [at Lanyon Vikings] there were probably 1,000 people, and that was fantastic,” he said.
“Having the chance to talk to 1,000 people of the community, that is awesome. It was good fun – for all the wrong reasons – but it was good to talk face-to-face to people and I would like to think we had a real connection with the community.
“That one-on-one was what it was all about.”
ESA Commissioner Whelan has also lauded Mr Murphy for his connection not only with the community but with ESA staff personally.
“I could not have asked for a more warm and compelling colleague who supported me through my transition into this agency [three years ago],” she said.
“He advised me that he was thinking of retiring [last year] but he would stay by my side to support me through my first fire season as Commissioner and I will be forever in Joe’s debt for the support he has provided me.”
His focus on people and the community also came into focus through his inclusion initiatives, making it easier for people to feel welcomed in the emergency services community.
“We are all wearing these diversity and inclusion badges here in the ACT. That is Joe’s work,” Commissioner Whelan said.
“Joe has worked tirelessly to make the emergency services accessible for all members of the community and is also making sure that we make ourselves accessible to the broader ACT community.
“This is really a reflection of the commitment he has made over the last 33 years.”
And for a man known for his stoicism over the last bushfire season, his emotional side was on display during his retirement announcement.
“I am a little bit emotional but I am looking forward now, so I have got a long time ahead of me. My old man is 89, so I am relying on the longevity of the genes, and I have plenty of plans ahead of me,” he laughed.
“The team is everything and the support of all the teams is everything as well. I am going to miss the people the most.”