Most of the time when someone gets to the end of their career they fade away into the sunset. An energetic guy kind of finishes up just coasting along waiting for the last day. Whether you are a factory worker, an office worker or a firefighter, a lot of us just punch the time card when we get near the end.
In the fire service we often call that “Senior Guy Syndrome”. Senior guy syndrome can be extreme. I have seen firefighters not even get out of the chair for house duties, or training the last couple weeks. Some guys seem to get the syndrome way to early, just because they are the most senior guy on the shift. These guys after maybe 5 or 10 years on the job are expecting to get respect that goes with someone who has been around for 25 or 30 years.
I have seen several different ways that firefighters spend their last year. Some have been good and some have been really bad. Probably the most bizarre thing I saw was a firefighter retiring after 30 years and not telling anyone. He did go through the official process of retiring but asked that it be kept confidential. After he walked out for the last time it was announced that he had retired, not even a handshake for his co-workers.
The most common way to retire is to officially write a letter stating that you intend to retire. After that there are some official forms to fill out. In the firehouse most people are happy for the guy leaving. Some happy for him, others happy because they don’t like him. Some firefighters work the same up to the last day, others don’t do much.
Unless you are retiring for a health reason, or some issue other than your choice, the retirement process is pleasant. How you handle it is your choice. You can go out in a positive way, having fun and leaving a good reputation or you can be that miserable guy with the negative attitude. The miserable guy feels sorry for himself, not at all happy that he has completed a career and will get a pension. Most likely he was like that through his whole career, and the end is no different.
The more positive guys spend the last part of their career telling stories about the “big one” to new guys. As they get to the final days they often give some of their firefighter things to new guys. Maybe some books, or some training materials, maybe a folding spanner wrench that someone gave them when they started. Along with those things they leave a lot of advice, both about putting out fires and about getting along. You can learn about putting out fires from a lot of places but you can only learn about getting along from someone who went through it.
It is important to remember that as long as you show up to work you are expected to do your job. It is very disappointing to see a firefighter leave without sharing stories or advice. You learned a lot and now it is your turn to pass it on. Finish strong by giving advice, until you do that you are not done.
By John Morse
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