Celebrated NSW Rural Fire Service boss Shane Fitzsimmons has stepped down from his role after 12 years at the helm of the firefighting agency.

Fitzsimmons was saluted and applauded at the NSW RFS headquarters on Thursday as he left the service to take up a new role as commissioner of government disaster agency Resilience NSW.

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The outgoing fire chief has been widely praised for his leadership during the recent bushfire season, where more than 5.5 million hectares of the state were razed.

Fitzsimmons said he was meant to start his new role last year but “didn’t feel right” leaving just as the summer’s fires began.

“I said, ‘it doesn’t feel right to leave now, this season is shaping up to be difficult’,” he told Deborah Knight on 2GB.

“So I reached an agreement with the government to stay until the end of the fire season.”

Rob Rogers will take over as the new head of the fire service after 40 years as an RFS member and nine years as deputy commissioner.

“I have every confidence Commissioner Rob Rogers and all the team will be as prepared as they can be, whatever the season presents as we head into 2021,” Fitzsimmons said.

“Please don’t be complacent. Focus on understanding and accepting your level of risk.

“But, most importantly, do something about that risk.

“Having a bushfire survival plan, preparing your home, preparing your property, preparing your loved ones.”

The NSW RFS said Fitzsimmons’ departure was “the end of an era”. 

“He has seen us, and the community, through some of the toughest conditions and experiences ever. We say ‘thank you’, Shane.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian the state “owes a huge debt of gratitude” to Fitzsimmons as “one of the true heroes of NSW”.

“Thanks so much to you and your team on behalf of the people of NSW for everything you have done to keep us safe during the most horrible bushfire season,” she said.

Fitzsimmons begins his new role on Friday. He had reportedly been receiving briefings about recovery work for fire- and drought-affected communities as well as “the initiatives and programs anticipating the release of restrictions” as the state continues to deal with COVID-19 pandemic.

This article originally appeared on Over60.