You have spent the last 30 years in uniform, serving your country and your community as a firefighter. Today you retire; hopefully in good health and financially stable. Now what? You do not have to get up in the morning to report to your station; you have to make a decision as to what to wear for the day as you do not have to wear a uniform; you do not have to drink bad coffee and hear horrible jokes with your crew. You do not respond to calls yet your ears are attuned to every siren, every engine or truck company driving by your home and every cop car or ambulance in your vicinity. Do you miss it?
Many times our personal identity is wrapped up in our work identity. In uniform, you walk into a store, visit a school or ride down the road in your apparatus and everyone knows who you are and what you do. Now, in your civilian clothes, no one recognizes you or identifies you as a firefighter. Have you become invisible to members of your community? Sure, some townsfolk will recognize you as the firefighter who saved their father; responded to the lumber yard fire or rescued the child in a well. Over time, however those memories fade and you become yet another member of the community, transparent to the newcomers and a fading memory to those you once served.
For some of us, retirement from the fire service creates a loss of our identity as our identity was wrapped up in the fire service. In order for us to remain relevant, we must remain involved.
Some of us want to fade into obscurity. We have had enough of the all night fires, the deaths and community misery we face during our shifts. We want to get away and we move away to a sunny community in Arizona or Florida; we purchase a motor home and tour the country; we hang with our spouses or grandkids, play a lot of golf, hunt or fish. Some of us drink and sink into a depressive state for many reasons.
What if I do not want to fade into obscurity? What if I want to remain a vital member of your community or in the fire service? What if you have a few more good years left to continue to serve your community or the fire department? What do you do?
I loved being on the job and faced this conundrum when I was looking to retire. I was becoming tired of the politics and the other BS that drives good people away. My decision was to pursue an advanced degree and continue serving my fire service community in another way – namely as an attorney serving firefighters and fire departments. The real issue for me and I assume most of us, is the need to remain relevant in the community, either with the fire service or in your home town.
How can that happen if you do not have the opportunity to attain an advanced degree? Much of what I am going to say here takes some pre-planning, a term you are familiar with. Thinking about what you are going to do when you retire is as important as the planning aspect before actually pulling the retirement trigger.
You can serve as a training instructor in your local community college or fire training center; you can serve as a subject matter expert; you can start a consulting firm and provide your valuable education and knowledge for a certain sum to others; you can network with other firefighters and serve as community responders in your home town; you can serve as an elected member of your community as a Fire Commissioner or councilmember; you can run for a state or national office or other such roles that are important to both you and your community.
Some of us continue or become coaches in our local youth or high school coaching teaching the young valuable life’s skills, good manners, gracious winning and losing and what it takes to be a member of a team.
We may be getting to old or have too many surgeries to drag a hose, climb a ladder making the good grab but we want to remain identified as a firefighter with many good years ahead of us.
Get involved, stay active and live long a have a great life. This can be with family, community, your church and other community activities. Yes, I realize that some of us want to ride off into the sunset but others want to remain involved in our chosen profession. Stay healthy and involved.