Today is August 23, 2017. 110 more shifts, 11 more months, 335 more days and then…well…it’s over. For the past 32 plus years, with few exceptions, every third day I’ve gotten up and put on a firefighter’s uniform. This time next year I won’t be doing that anymore. I won’t be a firefighter. I’ll be a retired firefighter. I’ll no longer be who and what I’ve been since 1985 and I’ll become a “former” version of that. “What do you do Bryan?” and I’ll have to answer “I’m retired from the fire department”.
I think the reality is starting to sink in.
That’s not all bad I suppose. I’ve tried to stay on top of my game physically but there is no hiding the fact that I’m not longer a 150 pound 19 year old with an awesome head of thick black hair and a body fat composition of less than 10%. The tones dropping once after midnight now leaves me as exhausted the next day as being on a working commercial job from 3:00am until shift change did 20 years ago.
Where do I, where do WE, go from here when it’s all said and done? When the last piece of cake has been eaten at the reception and the last war story or practical joke tale has been told. What now?
What was the carrot I was chasing? What was it that inspired me? What yearning was it that the fire service has filled since my youth? That’s what we need to find again when we retire. For life to be as full as possible we must find another purpose, another reason to be.
What are some viable options and why should we look into them? Here’s what I’ve been able to come up with so far.
Nobody said that it has to be over! So many states, Georgia isn’t one of them unfortunately, have 20 drop programs and 20 and out retirement plans. If I’d retired after 20 years I’d have only been 39 and I’m sure I would have found another department with the intention of working another 20 years.
Starting off riding tailboard again isn’t your only option either. Depending on your qualifications you could join some departments at nearly any rank. You could go drive a BRT again! You could even get a promotion to a higher rank possibly. Maybe you could find a volunteer or smaller combination department looking for a training chief or chief of the department. Do some leg work. The worst they can say is “No”.
What about pouring yourself into your wife/husband and kids like you poured yourself into your department for the past few decades?
A few years ago I went through a promotional process and it was implied that, since I wasn’t actively pursuing a degree, I wasn’t dedicated to the department. To be accurate though I was dedicated to the department, I just wasn’t more dedicated to the department than I was to my family. My dedication to the department had been more than proven. I’d spent enough Sunday afternoons writing papers in a coffee shop while my wife looked after the kids as they asked over and over “Where’s Daddy?”
Even though I’ve tried to focus more on my family, the job takes us all away from them way too much. Pouring ourselves into our marriages and into our young or grown children and even into our parents in their golden years is something that can kindle a passion in us after we hang up our turnout gear.
How many of you have wanted to coach little league or pee wee football? The opportunities are out there to coach.
My kids go to a small Christian school. Last year was the first year they had 8 man football. I know very little about actually coaching the technical aspects of football. But I know a little about intensity and I know more about conditioning. I took what the book “Youth Football for Dummies” taught me and combined it with teaching the middle school boys to focus on hitting harder than their opponents on every play. My contribution to the team was minimal to say the least but they were one win away from the state championship and that gave me a great sense of satisfaction.
What can you coach? What do your kids or grandkids play? Even if their school doesn’t take volunteer assistants you can be involved, as a booster or even just hanging out at practice and encouraging the kids. Maybe you used to sit in a command vehicle giving instructions to fire attack. Now you can mix Gatorade and tell kids how important hydration is. That’s a lot more fun and less stressful!
I include this because firefighters that don’t have any interest in the outdoors are the exception. They are like the guys in the station that don’t drink coffee. It doesn’t make them a bad people…just…different. What do you mean you don’t drink coffee? What do you mean you don’t fish? Hunt? Hike? Camp?
But I digress. If you like the outdoors there are so many options for you after retirement. If you’ve got property you could try your hand at homesteading a little. We did for awhile. Fresh eggs are hard to beat and there is a certain satisfaction in eating from your own garden.
What about volunteering at a nature center? Nearly everyone has one close by or a State Park or even with the city you live in.
No, I need a paying gig you say? Okay.
Take a job with one of the water bound towing/service companies like SeaTow or TowBoatUs. Even though there are services on area lakes, I’m envious of folks that live close to the ocean. Working for one of these companies looks like a stinking blast to me.
Get your Captain’s license and become a fishing guide or fish some local tournaments if you’re good enough. Take a job at the local marina. Apply at a hunting lodge or game preserve nearby.
We’re retired. We ain’t getting any younger. You know? There isn’t a one of us who isn’t aware of the plethora of health threats we’ve faced over the span of our career. We may not have to worry about falling through somebody’s freaking roof into a burning attic now but there are still threats that will linger to the end, like cancer, and heart problems, and the myriad of garbage that years of sleep deprivation have left us with because somebody vomited at 3:24am and couldn’t find the strength to get into the car.
Fitness and health are how we combat, hopefully successfully, for years to come, these threats. Have you ever thought of becoming a personal trainer? Certifications aren’t that expensive and you can find a gym to train in or start your own gig. Plenty of soccer moms would love to be training in a group setting at the local subdivision clubhouse by a former community hero. Look into some of the certifications from the International Sports Science Association (ISSA). Add into your fitness training repertoire some nutrition training and maybe become a distributor of a quality line of supplements (We do AdvoCare) and you can pad your retirement fairly well in addition to keeping your old bones in tip top shape.
Who knows, you might become the poster child for firefighter longevity!
You’ve spent the past two or three decades, plus or minus, taking care of people. When I hear firefighters say that they became firefighters solely because they wanted to “help people” I throw the BS flag. That might be true in a few instances but, come on, we all wanted to ride the big red truck, tear stuff up, and be admired by kindergarteners and little old ladies. Admit it.
With that said though, when we actually did help someone, when we made a difference in someone’s life, something tangible, and something real, you know it made you feel warm inside. You can still get that feeling.
There are plenty of charities out there but I’ll plug one here because it’s right down our alley. Emergency Response Services for Latin America (ERSLA) provides training and equipment for firefighters, fire safety training for school children, and water filtration systems to Latin America. I plan on jumping on some of their opportunities when I retire. For now I’ve only been able to contribute a little financially. It is a cause that has my heart.
What cause could get yours and fill you with some “warm fuzzies” again?
When it’s all said and done I worry about the guys that say they are simply going to golf, fish, and hunt when they retire. Thank God that some of them do just that for years and years after they leave the fire service. Unfortunately however, it seems like, by and large, those are the folks that are gone not too long after retiring. Something gets them far too often…a cardiac event…cancer…something.
I don’t want that for you. I don’t want that for me. I don’t want that for my wife and those three crumb snatchers I’m raising. We have to find a new purpose. We have to keep the fire in our belly burning. What does it for you? It might be as simple as mowing yards in your subdivision or cutting bait on a charter boat, or being a dive master, or stocking the peanut butter at your grocery store. It might be bigger, like running for mayor or governor or congress or finishing your degree in astrophysics.
I don’t know what it is for you and maybe you don’t either consciously but your new purpose is somewhere in the recesses of your heart and mind.
Find it! It’s there I promise.