By Michael Morse
You did your duty, so it’s time to get on with the rest of your life. Funny thing is, for the rest of your life, you will look back at the years you spent responding to other people’s emergencies with a touch of sadness. Letting go of the greatest job in the world is not easy, but if it were easy, we probably wouldn’t have loved it as much.
Here are 10 of the countless things I miss since retiring. I may miss the job, but I’m grateful I had the opportunity to do it for as long as I did, and I have no regrets. The memories are priceless.
10. Shift Change. “One person enters, one person leaves.” There is beauty in the simplest of things. Being part of the continuum of duty should never be taken lightly. It is timeless.
9. Station coffee. It really didn’t matter how perfectly the coffee was brewed or how well the beans were roasted; it was the conversation that flowed around those cups that mattered most.
8. Driving. If there is a better feeling than being in complete control of a giant piece of machinery, lights flashing and sirens wailing as you expertly maneuver through traffic, between buildings, parked cars, crowds, feeder lines, downed wires, victims, and the devil himself toward the perfect place to spot the apparatus to tackle whichever job is at hand, I have yet to find it.
7. Strapping a SCBA to your back. On the move…reflex takes over…hitching your shoulders, tightening the straps…clipping the buckle…turning it in…masking up…going in.
6. Station meals. They are the best of times, they are the worst of times, they are the moments that bring us together and give us nourishment as well as the opportunity to complain without restraint as we are forced to eat the inedible or offer true thanks and gratitude when the meal calls for celebration. Or, simply, just feed our faces at the communal table. And leftovers from previous meals at the start of the shift are pretty good, too!
5. The bunk. Few full grown people will ever have the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of bunk at work, or the restorative magic that an hour on it during a brutal shift provides.
4. The smells. Stepping into the station to begin a tour, the unmistakable remnants of last night’s fire, the stories that are told simply by breathing it in, and seeing in our mind what our brothers and sisters encountered.
3. Stepping out. The apparatus rolls to a stop, doors open as one, fully dressed firefighters, tools in hand, packs on backs, helmets secured, jobs to do…those precious moment of anticipation before getting to work is better than all the drugs mankind has found or invented.
2. Packing hose. Kneeling in the hosebed, standing on the rear step, shouting “butt” or whatever your warning when the coupling is coming…being in line as the lines we used to battle the blaze are returned to their berth, foot by foot, hand over hand, passed between officers, senior firefighters, probies—all working together to get the trucks ready for the next one. It doesn’t matter if it’s noon on a Sunday or three o’clock on a Tuesday morning; the only people in the world are the ones packing the hose; camaraderie, pride, and the sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves, unspoken, but more alive during those moments than any other time in a firefighter’s career, perhaps his entire life.
1. Shift change. “You’re all set.” More beautiful words have never been spoken to a firefighter after a long tour away from home.
It is better to have things to miss than to have never experienced anything worth missing.
The author, missing it.
Michael Morse is a former captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department (PFD), an author, and a popular columnist. He served on PFD’s Engine Co. 2., Engine Co. 9, and Ladder Co. 4 for 10 years prior to becoming an EMT-C on Rescue Co 1 and Captain of Rescue Co. 5.