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Why there’s never a ‘perfect moment’ to quit firefighting

I look forward to the days when the horrific memories are gone forever and just the good ones survive


(Photo/US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Photo/US Bureau of Labor Statistics

By Michael Morse

When I wrote the article, Why 20 years of firefighting may be enough for me, I was closing in on 20. Giving it up was a lot harder than I thought. I made it to 23.

There’s something indescribable about being a first responder, or so many of us wouldn’t do it long after we know we should have stopped. I think that maybe we wait for the perfect day, the perfect call, and the perfect moment before letting it go. But if I have learned one thing; the most perfect moment of all is the one that is happening right now.

We, of all people, know that we cannot plan on anything. Waiting for the perfect moment to call it quits is nuts. The last three years of my career were spent in a self-imposed limbo. Things happened that should have been the catalyst to my giving it up for good, I just didn’t realize it until long after the moments were gone.
I have some great memories of some truly memorable moments that happened during the 23 years I spent as a firefighter, lieutenant and captain with the Providence Fire Department. Funny thing is, I never knew how great those moments were while they were happening. Lost in the heat of the battle was the fact that the things that were happening would stay with me for the rest of my life. Great things and horrible things alike have stayed with me, and as time progresses, the good pushes the bad further back. I look forward to the days when the horrific memories are gone forever, and just the good ones survive.
The good news is things do get better after retirement. The ghosts I spoke of in the article have receded to a place where they seldom see the light of day.
I remember my 23-year experience more as a whole now, rather than shattered fragments of misery with a few bright spots. And the memory now is good.
I don’t think about “the job” much anymore, I‘m more focused on “the me.” What I did, and witnessed does not define me as a person, it never did. I got a little lost in the middle of it all, and believed that I had become the personification of the job that I was doing. Big mistake. In the big scheme of things, I was just another tool in the toolbox, helping to do a job that needed to be done.
It’s kind of funny how in recollection the painful moments come to the surface as individual events, each one a separate incident with vivid detail. It takes but a second to conjure those images up, when I put my mind to it. So I choose not to. Instead, I think of all of the good times in the station, the connection with the patients when I was working the EMS side of the fire service, and the mutual respect shared with the people I spent over two decades with.
Though I am no longer a physical part of that world, a giant piece of me will always belong there.
When I allow myself the indulgence of reflection now, I see my career as a whole. Rather than dredging up ghosts from the past, I am able to simply remember how good it felt to be part of something bigger than myself, something that‘s ultimate purpose was good, and I know that wherever this life leads me, I will always be part of it.
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