Last week my neighbor passed away after an ongoing battle with respiratory and cardiac illnesses. His name was bob. Bob retired from the new Rochelle (NY) fire department in the 80’s and moved, with his wife, to South Carolina to be with their kids (and grandkids) and escape N.Y. winters.
When I moved into the neighborhood I would see Bob on a regular basis sitting on his front porch, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. Being the social butterfly that I am, I walked over one day and introduced myself. I immediately knew (unofficially) that Bob had been a fireman, because his first question to me was “how long you been on the job?” I told him then asked him where he was on the job and what his assignment was. His reply was “New Rochelle Ny, I was a tillerman.”
My conversations with bob were always short, always on his front porch and I always walked away with great one-liner. after telling a war story of the “old Days” he looked and nodded his head toward his cigarette and said, “we did things real stupid back then, and look at me now.”
He was referring to foolish risks in general, but, more specifically, he was talking about breathing smoke (and smoking cigarettes). I vaguely remember the war story, but i’ll never forget that last statement. Not long after that Bob’s health started to worsen and I rarely saw him out on his porch anymore.
Bob never knew that he had an impact on me. But, now that he’s gone, I think about what I will leave behind, what nugget of knowledge can I instill in someone that may make them better or safer at their job. Ours is a unique profession in that you may leave it, but it never leaves you. Maltese crosses and war stories are around every corner. The trick is not to take your responsibility lightly or take your job for granted. It is the duty of everyone in the fire service to leave it better than they found it.
Bob was found in cardiac arrest and was unable to be revived. Ironically, or fittingly, he was found on his front porch.