Steve Lee, 34
Director of Safety at Shawmut Design and Construction
Instead of taking a traditional path after high school, Steve Lee decided to become a firefighter for the Air Force and the National Park Service.
He worked on what’s known as a hotshot crew, cutting down branches and trees on the front lines. He graduated at the top of the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy — as a civilian, not a member of the military — and started working as a federal wildland firefighter outside Albuquerque.
He got his start fighting fires early, volunteering as a Ventura County Firefighter in high school and then working as an emergency medical technician starting in 2007. Then he spent several years traveling to nearly every state during fire season. During the off-season, he would work odd jobs. Eventually, he landed a job with a company called Construction Health and Safety, as a site medic for construction jobs. Initially he just helped manage injuries, but he started to take on a larger role managing safety on construction sites for Clark Construction, the general contractor under which his employer typically worked.
Then there was the epiphany ahead of what turned out to be his last fire, in Northern California. He was part of a helitack crew, which rappel into fires from helicopters to supply and aid firefighters already on the ground.
“At that time, I was with my girlfriend, and I remember not being able to talk to her, and there was a helicopter crash out there,” Lee said. “I needed to figure out what I wanted to do. I wanted a family, and I wanted to get married, and I didn’t see [firefighting] being the best fit for what I wanted.”
He took a job with Shawmut as a safety manager in 2017. Now head of safety for Shawmut’s west coast operations, he visits construction sites to make sure workers are following safety protocols, and collects data for possible improvements. He also developed a COVID safety plan for the company in March 2020, while recovering from his own bout with the coronavirus.
He currently has the unenviable task of asking contractors and subcontractors to certify that their workers are vaccinated, and enforcing masking indoors.
Outside of work, the married dad of two enjoys woodworking and coaching his 4-year-old daughter’s soccer team. He’s also working toward his bachelor’s in occupational health and safety at Columbia Southern University. —R.B.R.