Old Firefighters Never Die: They Just Smolder

 So, I’m retiring. Not from my full time job of dispatching to become a Gentleman Author, as I wanted. (It’s like a Gentleman Farmer, a rich person who just farms as a hobby. No real farmer is a Gentleman Farmer, especially considering their ungentlemanly language while going through bills.)

At my full time job we got an email pointing out, now that one of the Sheriff Department detectives has retired, I have the most seniority of anyone there or in dispatch. By six years. Maybe in the entire Noble County Government, although I’m not motivated to find out.

Nor will I retire from writing, until they pry my fingers from the keyboard. Maybe not even then, if I can manage text to speech. No, I’m retiring from what I’ve done longest (other than biological functions) in my adult life: firefighting.

 That’s Phil Jacob standing beside me, holding his pin for being a firefighter for 55 (!) years. I remain unconvinced Phil will ever retire. In fact, I should put off working on my Haunted Noble County book, because fifty years from now he’ll be haunting the Albion firehouse. When I look at him (or Tom Lock, who joined up six months before I did), I realize I’d never have the most seniority on the Albion Fire Department.

I don’t know how they do it. I beat my body down too badly. After working a fire, I’d be in so much pain I couldn’t function for days. My back pain goes all the way back to back to back fires way back in the 80s, where I wore a steel air tank for longer than even a young pup should. It got progressively worse, and I slowly realized over the last few years that I was threatening to become another victim to treat at an emergency scene, instead of contributing.

The tanks are a lot lighter now, but I’m a lot heavier. And I have less hair.


In the last year I developed shoulder problems. Recently my knees started acting up, in a temper tantrum kind of way. (And they make strange noises.) I’ve got arthritis in my big toe, for crying out loud. Ever since Covid, it’s been all I can do to get through a day without falling asleep on the couch. Okay, maybe six decades of living has more to do with that than Covid.

I’m not complaining so much as explaining. I loved firefighting. The guys and gals who volunteer at the AFD, and our neighboring departments, are my brothers and sisters–they’re family. But I couldn’t even go to the station much, especially between those murderous 12-hour night shifts in dispatch that wouldn’t happen if I was a gentleman author.

But I put it off. I didn’t want to admit I can’t do something I used to be able to do. When I finally told my wife I was pulling the plug, she wasn’t a bit surprised. Most likely no one was.

So I wrote the membership a letter, and a few weeks later, when we walked into the annual AFD Appreciation Dinner, I saw my name tag and a helmet with my number on it. It was real. I had by then reached the depression stage of grief. I’ll let you know when the acceptance stage arrives.

Here’s Brian Tigner, a hard worker for the AFD, giving me my stuff and telling me they’d just as soon I left through the back door. Kidding! The reconditioned barn where we had dinner was awesome.


Wow, this turned out to be more of a downer than I’d planned. It’s not all bad: I’ll stay on as an honorary member, doing the Facebook page, taking pictures, doing public information stuff, and so on. But I’m thinking of going to this year’s Fish Fry as a diner instead of a server … that concrete floor is hell on my back.

I look good in red flannel. I do, TOO.


To this day, I don’t know how I worked up the courage to walk into that firehouse door on my eighteenth birthday. Me, the shy, antisocial introvert with no interest in being on a team–except this one. Every time I headed up to the station, I stepped outside my comfort zone. If I hadn’t I’d have missed most of the events of my life, and I wonder then if I would have ever had anything to write about.

And for every bad thing I experienced, there were a dozen great things.

Forty-three years. I’ll carry them forever … in a good way.


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5 thoughts on “Old Firefighters Never Die: They Just Smolder”

  1. Congrats Mark.
    After giving for so long, you can now become a Hunter gatherer.

  2. Congratulations, Mark!

    Old firefighters never die; they just get knocked on their ash.

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