I recently had a discussion with a fire chief who has been retired for about 10 years. We got on the conversation of my recent retirement from active service and he was telling me how much missed being on the fire department.
He said he misses it every single day of his life. He said he dreams about being back on the fire department at least three to four nights each week. When fire trucks go past his house he jumps up and runs to the window to look out at them. Worst of all, he described his life of one of a lonely existence and regents that he ever retired.
Then he asked me if I miss it. Maybe not enough time has passed by for me yet (only 6 months... I'm still a "rookie retiree). But I think he was floored by my answer. "Not a bit" I said. He laughed, thinking I was making a joke about how much I really miss it. "No, seriously" I said, "I thought I would, but I don't." "Not even a little bit?" He prodded. "Not in the least" I insisted. "How could you not miss it?" he said with trepidation in his voice.
I told him I didn't miss it because I'd done it for 30 years and for at least the past five years I've been looking forward to doing something else with my life. I explained to him that while being a firefighter was a noble calling and a vocation I enjoyed very much, it did not define me. Unlike some, being a firefighter was just a job. Now, don't get the wrong idea and start posting hate messages because I said that. It was a job... a vocation... a calling... and something I absolutely loved to do. But I refused to let it consume me as I have seen it consume so many others.
When that happens, the sad outcome is often the miserable existence in retirement of being lonely, or trying to live in the past in ways that are unhealthy. I'm told of retired firefighters who go to their fire stations every day, as if they're still part of the organization. I don't begrudge them the right to do that if it makes them happy, I just think it's sad that there is such a void in their life after they retire and they aren't able to fill it with something else.
I had the opportunity to talk with another retired fire chief (this one retired 26 years). I asked him if he misses is. His response was more aligned with mine. He told me he has 28 grandchildren and he and his wife travel the country in his motor home. He said he doesn't have time to miss it. He's too busy living the next chapter of his life and enjoying all the things he missed while he was working. I applauded his response.
From my experiences, I see too many people who let this job define their life and consume them to the point that it costs them their marriages, destroys their relationships with their children and all kinds of other bad outcomes including excessive drinking.
What do you want your life to be after the fire service? One of a lonely existence? One with destroyed family relations? One where you go "hang out" at the fire station because that's the only place that feels like home?
Or do you want to be waiting with baited anticipation of the day when you can write your next chapter, moving on to do all those things you always wished you had the time to do when you were working... traveling... writing... teaching... volunteering... mentoring... coaching... playing a sport... taking up a hobby... whatever! There's life after the fire service. I know this to be true. I'm living it every day and, sorry to say, there's just no time for looking back an missing my past.
Fire Chief (ret.) Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO, MICP