Retirement, it’s a word that is used to formally say you’re transitioning from the active duty as a firefighter to “civilian” life. For some it’s a dream, for others it may be a curse. Sadly, some will never see it.
When I started out, I know it would happen someday. That someday was far off in my dreams. I wanted to do this job for as long as I can and they would have to force me to go. That was MY dream.
As we all know, dreams don’t always come true. Fast forward to now. I’m retired. At the age of39, I found myself HAVING to retire.
I never thought I’d be 39 and retired. Some might say that firefighters have it easy. “Wow, 39 and retired! Wish I was a firefighter and could do that.” Sometimes I feel ashamed having to say it. What will people say? How will they look at me? Are they going to think I chose to walk away?
Transitioning to retirement is by far the hardest thing I have done in my life. I don’t have the support of my firehouse family on this one. It’s all on me. When you’re forced to go before you are ready; you deal with a lot of emotions. Knowing you want to still be a firefighter, but you physically or mentally can’t. Finding something, anything to fill the gap of what you did every third day isn’t easy.
I am fortunate that I have four wonderful young kids and a very supportive wife. My days now are filled by cooking breakfast, packing lunches, dropping kids off at school and spending time with my 3 year old at home. My morning news I used to watch at work is now replaced by watching “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.”
Like the firehouse, it’s a routine. The pace is even quick at times. But what I miss most is the adrenaline rush. That split second when the tones would drop and you anticipated what was coming in.
I miss the firehouse, the guys. I miss the morning kitchen table discussion where all the events of the world were solved when the minds were brought together. I miss the morning checks. Taking time and pride in checking out my equipment. I miss eating with my firehouse family. Top notch meals priced at $5.
What I wouldn’t give to gear up and hop on the engine again, one last time. I miss the midnight runs. Pushing myself to wake up and forcing my brain to work at maximum speed when it should be resting. I miss walking out to back the rig in and seeing the sunrise.
I miss the challenges, both physical and mental. I miss the medial runs that tested every aspect of my skills. I miss the fires. I miss fire inspections, knowing I was making the community I worked for a safer place.
I miss training. I miss learning new techniques and theories. Sharpening my skills so I could perform would be needed.
I miss being at the firehouse when I family would come to visit. My kids were always welcome and they’d love running around the apparatus bay and taking turns sitting in the rigs.
In hindsight, I miss it all. The good and the bad.
What I am left with is the memories; the good and bad. The bad ones come back. Every night in my sleep, they come back. When I was working, the bad calls would be pushed out by other bad calls. We’d deal with them as a family and we’d get past them.
Now that there are no more calls, the bad ones linger. The faces of those I lost and couldn’t save some back. 20 years of firehouse sleep made me a light sleeper. Now I find myself having to take sleeping pills every night. If I forget to, I toss and turn, restlessly.
Don’t get me wrong, retirement is nice. I get an opportunity to see my kids grow up instead of working 2 jobs to support them. I love spending time with my wife, living out all the things we wanted to do and planned for so long. I love spending the holidays with my family.
But there is still a void. I lived my life as a firefighter for so long, it’s tough to shut it off like a spigot. I look through the pictures of my career, these are the good memories. I relive the fires and lessons learned from them. I also remember the few times where things could have ended different than they did.
So I wake up each morning, thankful for the life I was allowed to live as a firefighter and now the life I live as a retiree. I’ll adjust in time.
Most of you reading this will end up at retirement. I hope the transition is easier for you. I hope that you are at that point where your body, mind and age all combine at the same time and you retire.
But keep it in the back of your mind, that none of us knows our future. Each day is truly a gift. Make the most of it; make the most of your career. Continue to be the best you can be, make a difference, make memories and have fun.