Well, here I am just a couple of months away from permanent retirement from the Providence Fire Department…not wanting to face the fact that this part of my journey is over. I guess this is perfectly natural considering this is the greatest profession anyone could ever choose and the PFD is among the best fire departments in the entire country! …and so are the people!
From the moment I joined the department in 1980 my time has been leading toward the reward of my retirement. I’m extremely thankful to have made it this long in the streets. I may be battered but I’m not broken…not completely, anyway. I have to say that the experience has been even greater than I could have ever dreamed. I came from a firefighter family (my father retired as a Lt. on the PFD) and saw second hand the closeness and camaraderie which existed on this job; but no one can actually understand the true connection firefighters everywhere have for each other prior to working side by side with their brother firefighters. It is a singularly unique situation. We fight together side by side, as a team, in life threatening situations where you literally rely on the man next to you to keep you safe and you provide the same measure of unconditional support for him. We live together as a family, sometimes for years at a time. In this manner we are different from the military or police, even though we do share a common goal of “everyone goes home” as our first priority when we begin a shift.
I remember the many firefighters and officers who taught me along the way. Each had their own valuable lessons to bestow on a new firefighter and then a new officer. I listened, I learned and I trained until I was the best firefighter I could be. I owe everything good that I am as a firefighter and officer to those who came before me and shared with me the valuable lessons they had learned via older firefighters or from their own experiences. With this in mind, I hope that I’ve passed on some knowledge over the years to some of the guys I’ve worked with because that’s the ultimate goal of an old firefighter – helping to insure that the young firefighters actually become old firefighters. I urge the young guys to attempt to learn something new every day – what you learn today may end up saving your life tomorrow!
I would also encourage the younger firefighters to get involved with the many aspects of this job outside the station walls. There are so many opportunities to join with your brothers and sisters in a myriad of activities – some social, some athletic and some political. These times will be among the greatest experiences you will enjoy in your life so take full advantage when the opportunities arise. You’ll be surprised how quickly time slips away when you love your job.
Also, let your voice be heard. Don’t be afraid to speak up and voice concern over the direction the department or the union is heading. Remember…you are the department…you are the union! Make sure you attend the union meetings and when differences of opinion may arise, leave those differences in the union hall. Remember, there is strength in unity. No one else has your back except your brothers and sisters in the local. Respect the rank of Chief Officers who are not in the union but be very careful in placing your trust in them, they have other masters. Respect the office of those outside the fire service who are your superiors in the Chain-of Command (Commissioners, Councilpersons & Mayors) but NEVER trust them! They are all political animals, and as such are watching out only for themselves. This has been proven to us time after time.
To my many friends and peers on the PFD, thank you for the greatest experience of my life! I have enjoyed every minute I’ve spent with you both on and off duty. This job takes its toll both physically and emotionally but the rewards far outweigh the cost. Unfortunately all of us will reach this moment of separation from active duty in the fire service. There are many who, like me, are being forced to retire this year…and the next couple of years. As we go, we all hope that the members who remain will keep the tradition and reputation of the Providence Fire Department alive and well. Remember, you (we) are the department! …you (we) are the union!