Chief, enjoy your retirement – and leave the new chief alone!

Not being able to let go puts the new chief in an awkward position

I've often heard stories like this relayed to me following a chief's retirement: The fire chief retires after years of strong service, and less than a week later, they just happen to stop by the fire department's administrative offices.

They are greeted with smiles and friendly questions from the staff. They grab a cup of coffee and chit chat with people walking in the halls. They wander past some offices, and if someone is in the office, they stop at the door to say a few words or they even take a seat and make themselves at home to talk about the latest football or baseball scores.

Eventually, they make it to the fire chief's office, and if the new chief is in, they mosey in, take a seat and usually start by asking, "So how's it going?"

If you're the retired fire chief, be respectful. Let the new fire chief run the department. If they need advice or consultation, they'll call you.
If you're the retired fire chief, be respectful. Let the new fire chief run the department. If they need advice or consultation, they'll call you. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The retired fire chief feels walking in and taking a seat the office is a natural occurrence. After all, it was their office for many years, and the new chief was probably a subordinate who worked for them.

The new fire chief, being cordial, replies that "Everything is going well!"

The next question from the retired fire chief is about something that was left undone when they retired, such as a budget issue or an employee problem. The new fire chief then tells them the current status of the problem and from there, it is game on.

The retired fire chief starts telling the fire chief how to handle the problem and will probably get into other issues on how to run the department. At some point, usually about an hour later, the retired fire chief is tired and ready to go home.

But this will not be the last time the retired fire chief shows up. No, they’ll be back and the process will repeat: They’ll wander in, grab a cup of coffee and make their way around the offices, including the new fire chief’s office to, again, tell the new fire chief how to run the department.

I have even heard stories of the retired fire chief showing up at town parades in their old full-dress uniform and wanting to ride on the fire apparatus in the parade – all while the current fire chief is also riding in the parade with their full-dress uniform.

Hold back on giving unsolicited advice

Of course, not all retired fire chiefs fall into this category. It did not happen to me, and I had two retired Champaign (Illinois) fire chiefs still living in the community. They might show up for the retirement of a firefighter with whom they worked, but they never showed up at my door for an unannounced visit.

While some counseling and advice will be welcomed by some new fire chiefs, the reality is that one fire chief retired, and someone has taken their place. It’s time for the chief who retired to go and enjoy their retirement.

Hopefully, the retired fire chief was given a nice send-off on their last day with speeches, gifts, cake and punch. But when the retired fire chief starts showing up at the offices because they miss working or feel bored, it is not a good thing.

I do not see a problem with the new fire chief picking up the phone and calling the retired fire chief about something that may come up that needs to be addressed to tie up loose ends, but the retired fire chief should wait for that phone call to come. If your advice or counsel is needed, you’ll get a phone call.

It’s OK to move on

I get it! The fire service is a big part of someone’s life. Fire chiefs probably spend more time with firefighters than they do with members of their family. The fire station and fire service environment are a family environment, and just cutting it off is difficult for some. I have seen some firefighters actually panic as their retirement date got closer. The agony that the life that they have known for 30 years or more is coming to an end is enough to send some into hyperventilation.

It may be hard, but someone who is retiring is doing just that – retiring! It is OK to go the union hall, to social events, or fish and golfing tournaments, but there is no longer a need for you to stop by the new fire chief’s office, with a cup of coffee in hand, take a seat, and begin coaching on how to handle different issues. I have had some fire chiefs tell me that they have had to politely tell the retired fire chief to leave, with a simple, “I got this.”

If you’re the retired fire chief, be respectful. Let the new fire chief run the department. If they need advice or consultation, they’ll call you. Until then chief, enjoy your retirement!

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