Last winter, Andrew Barber was in so much pain that he couldn't wear a shirt, or even sleep with a light sheet touching his chest.
"Even the shower was painful," he said. "Just a constant burning feeling. I got some nerve medication, but even a double dose only just took the edge off."
Still struggling daily with pain - which is now "heading in the right direction" - Insp Barber wants to warn others about the seriousness of his illness, which is caused by reactivation of the varicella zoster virus.
The same virus causes chickenpox - which many people had as children - and then hides in the nervous system and reactivates.
In around one in five people it can cause long-term pain - called post-herpetic neuralgia.
Mr Barber believes his bad bout of shingles came about because of a hit to his immune system, after he was seriously injured in a fall while fishing at Bald Hill in August 2022.
"I had a pretty nasty accident, a fall off a cliff where I had 13 rib fractures and a broken foot while I was fishing with my son," he said.
"I ended up in St George Hospital for a lengthy stay, so I was recovering from that and my immunity took a hit.
"I had seven months off work and got back in early February on full duties and then went down to Adelaide for a road crash rescue competition.
"That's when I developed shingles."
He said he recognised the tingling feeling from having shingles in his 20s, when he got a mild case of blistering.
"It started as a bit of a tingling feeling where I'd injured myself and broken all the ribs, which developed into a burning type feeling," he said.
"I had small blisters and I know straight away what it was. Within a day, those blisters has increased considerably in size, and I had them off and on for about two weeks - some were the size of your fingernail."
He ended up having to take another two and a half months off work, and now lives with chronic pain.
"I was in a lot of pain even once the blisters had gone - I assumed because I had that previous injury that I got a pretty bad dose of shingles," he said.
"The blisters are nothing - it's the damage to the nerve endings that follow."
"I couldn't wear a shirt or have a sheet touching my chest - so it was mid-winter and I was wearing no clothes on my top."
Now back at work, he says the nerve pain is still "giving me some curry" but has learned to try to manage it with swimming, rest and healthy habits.
"As long as I take the medication I can get away with it," he said.
"It's more about the head space because chronic pain can be so encompassing."
As a firefighter of 31 years, he said the adrenalin of a job helps to compensate for the pain when he's called out to jobs, but that he often feels worse the day after being very active.
"It's slowed me down a little bit, but I've kept a really positive attitude and I'm determined to not let it affect me," he said.
"I can swim better now than I did before because. I try to swim every day, sometime twice - the cold water had been great, and it's heading in the right direction, definitely getting better."
In late 2023, the government introduced a new and more effective vaccine for the painful virus, announcing that nearly 67,000 older residents of the Illawarra would be eligible from November 1.
However, doctors have reported that the number of vaccines available to their practices is so far falling significantly short of what is needed.
Those eligible for the jab - called Shingrix - includes everyone aged 65 years and over, First Nations people 50 years and over, and immunocompromised people 18 years and over at high risk of herpes zoster infection.
Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said one in three Australians would get shingles in their lifetime without vaccination.
"This investment will ensure nearly five million Australians can get free protection from shingles and the very painful nerve damage that it causes," he said.
"Shingles can be severe, so it's really important that eligible people talk to their GP or pharmacist about getting the shingles vaccine."