Deputy Chief Stewart: Scottsdale resident answers the call to service

Deputy Chief Chris Stewart assisted in the 9/11 emergencies. (submitted photo)

Phoenix Fire Deputy Chief Chris Stewart was there that day.

The 1994 Northridge earthquake. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City.

At each one, he was leading rescue and recovery efforts during the aftermath.

Deputy Chief Stewart, who resides in Scottsdale, has worked with the Phoenix Fire Department for more than 25 years. His titles over the years have included deputy chief, operation’s safety chief, director of training, and deputy chief of homeland defense.

“In high school, I had my first ride-along; I could even tell you the date, too. It was Jan. 1, 1987, the day Arizona State University beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl. I watched it on TV at the station with a few other men working there. From that day on I knew what I wanted to do,” Mr. Stewart said.

Mr. Stewart grew up in Phoenix and married his high school sweetheart, Andrea Darby-Stewart. He is a father to two boys, a talented drummer, and a co-creator of Arizona’s first Inter-scholastic Cycling League.

At 18 he tested for the fire department and finished with the academy at 22. His job is to make sure the PFD’s policies and training programs are “as safe as possible for a dangerous environment.”

That constitutes everything related to training in the fire department for command officers, paramedics, EMTs, special operations, HAZMAT- and technical-rescue technicians.

For a year in his rank he served as deputy chief in charge of homeland defense created after 9/11; he managed terrorism liaison officers, intelligence, and covered the incident management team.

“The Phoenix Fire Department raised me. It motivated me to improve upon service and safety in the industry. In the fire service, your reputation is everything and it’s not always measured by the public,” he said.

The Stewart family (submitted photo)

“The people that I look up to whom I have worked with need to know that I not only did what I said I was going to do as a partner, but that I was competent in my job and that I was reliable for my team.”

A prime example of his leadership was during the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire tragedy. When 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died, Chief Stewart was the one who coordinated the movement of the bodies from Phoenix to Prescott.

He honored the wishes of the families and brought them back through Yarnell on their way home. The logistical challenges of this were immense, but he handled it without issue. The fire department trusts him to manage many complex logistical challenges and events.

John Shumaker, a long-time friend and co-worker, described Chief Stewart as well-respected in the organization.

“Chris was captain at one of my probationary stations. During that probationary time Chris and I forged a friendship initially because we were both interested in mountain biking. He proved to have unwavering integrity and an uncanny ability to think on a strategic level.

“You know, the best bosses are the ones who support their workers and make sure they have what they need to do their jobs successfully. Chris is a model for this type of management,” Mr. Shumaker said.

In 2012, Mr. Stewart and two other friends, Mr. Shumaker and Mike Perry, created the Arizona Interscholastic Cycling League to encourage teamwork, respect, and community through team-based middle and high school mountain bike teams.

The league is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit youth development organization building strong mind, body and character, guided by the principals of inclusivity and equality. It promotes inter-scholastic mountain bike racing, provides training and education to new teams and coaches and offers a comprehensive infrastructure to grow youth cycling in a professional, safe and engaging manner.

Mr. Perry, Mr. Shumaker and Mr. Stewart, along with their core volunteers, have grown the organization to nearly 1,000 middle and high school riders, 450 coaches, and 65 teams across the state.

“I was prepared to work for this community and I knew firefighting was what I was destined to do. If I could give any advice to any young man or woman interested in this department it’s to keep their eyes wide and their mind open with the highest form of integrity. I’ve been proud to serve for as long as I have,” Chief Stewart said.

Editor’s note: Katherine Pippin is a student at the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.

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