“I am proud to say that everyone under my command went home at the end of their tours.”Â Ron Ayotte
I made my decision to retire from the Marlborough Fire Department while I was on vacation with my wife Trish in Italy last May. I had talked to a few newly retired fellow travelers with our tour group over cappuccinos and they said â€œdo it, trust me, you will not regret it!â€
When we got back to the States, I informed my Chief (who himself was retiring) of my decision. Time went on, the clock kept ticking. I still reported for work, keeping a countdown. I set my retirement date for January 31, 2015. I spoke with the Cityâ€™s Retirement Board, who gave me some preliminary figures for what to expect from my pension. I dropped off the paperwork on January 12th.
Massachusetts has three options for Group 4 retirees (those who work in public safety for the state, as well as the cities and towns). Option A pays 80% of your highest 3 year average, Option B is lightly less, Option C is about 70%. I chose option C, which provides for my wife should I either drop dead or get hit by the proverbial bus. It is 10% less than the Option A, but if one chooses A, once you drop dead or get hit by the proverbial bus, thatâ€™s it. Your spouse gets nothing unless you took out a large insurance policy. Option B was slightly less than A, but the payouts to beneficiaries diminishes after 15 years, it is gone. Under Option C, if my wife passes away or gets hit by the proverbial bus before I do, I automatically go to Option A
Former Boston Fire Commissioner and author Leo Stapleton had a quote in one of his books, â€œYou can retire as a firefighter or as a Chief. Chief is betterâ€. He was spot on with that quote. I can get my â€œfire fixâ€ working the Massachusetts State Fire Academy. My automotive detailing venture and my two year old grandson Lucas will also keep me busy.
On January 19th, I went to the firehouse and started packing my things. I took my bedding out of the Deputyâ€™s dorm room and a few things from my office. Wednesday, January 21st was my last day on duty; using some accrued time to carry me to the 31st.
I did some figuring; I have worked under eight mayors (some very supportive of the fire department, others not so much), eight fire chiefs (with two of them being interim) and two â€œstudiesâ€ of the fire department.
I did seven years as a firefighter, 12 as a Lieutenant, 6 as a Captain and the balance of my 33+ year career as a Deputy Chief. I am proud to say that everyone under my command went home at the end of their tours. A few of them were injured in the line of duty, but as any firefighter will tell you, that does happen, as it is the nature of the business. I had a few bouts of injury leave myself.
I wore many hats in my career; the jake riding in the jumpseat; company officer; public fire educator; public information officer; shift commander; incident commander; plans reviewer; inspector; communications officer and grant writer, but the one hat that I always wore on top of the others was that of a firefighter. It is what I am and always will be!
I only lost one building as an incident commander; it was a decision that I did not regret. It was in a former roadside diner, and I thought we were knocking it out until I saw a crack in the foundation that was glowing orange. Burning debris had landed in the basement, setting the contents ablaze. I pulled everyone out of the building and off the roof and went to defensive ops. The fire was determined to have been set; the case is still open.
There are times where doing the right thing isnâ€™t popular, and doing the popular thing isnâ€™t right. I know I ticked off a few people in my career, but then, if you are an officer it comes with the territory. Some of them have let bygones be bygones while others probably still hold a grudge. It is their choice, and it does not bother me in the least.
I have dealt with the business vs. friendship issue a few times. One of my former chiefs stated it best. â€œI am not here to make friends, I am here to do a job. If you want to be my friend, that is great; just donâ€™t let it interfere with business.â€ It is a philosophy that I have followed and still believe in.
I am leaving my career with mixed emotions. I still love â€œthe jobâ€, but along with the job come grief and aggravation. There has been more than one occasion that I left the firehouse with a splitting headache, my stomach in knots and wondering if I could have handled a situation better; there has also been occasions that I left the firehouse with a grin from ear to ear knowing I did the right thing.
I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time back in 1981 and get appointed as a firefighter. I saw my son wanting to follow â€œthe old manâ€ into the department. He got his start as a per diem firefighter in the town of Lincoln, he became a dispatcher and call firefighter for the town of Weston, and he achieved his dream of getting hired in Marlborough in March of 2013. I had the pleasure of working with him for close to two years (the Deputy Chiefs work 10â€™s and 14â€™s; the groups work 24â€™s my first night was the second half of his first 24). I also get to work with him at the Academy.
Some people think I am retiring early; but I maxed out pension wise in 2013. I have seen people stay until they are 65 and you literally have to pry their fingers off of the doorframe to get them to go. I know of a handful of people who stayed that long and are still living. I have the rest of my life ahead of me. I will continue to write for Backstep Firefighter as long as Bill, Dave and the rest of the gang will let me, I am also working on a book based on my observations of the fire service and have a few ideas for articles in the trade magazines.
I was told by a very good friend and recent retiree from Worcester Fire that â€œit isnâ€™t really a retirementâ€¦ consider it to be a paid restraining order where you get to go back and visit the firehouse once in a whileâ€.
I want to express my gratitude to my family; especially my wife Trish for putting up with being a firefighterâ€™s wife for 33+years. I want to thank my friends as well as my Brothers and Sisters of my extended fire service family. We may work together or in different cities towns and even different countries, but we share a bond that many cannot understand.
It has been a great run, and Iâ€™ll catch you at â€œthe big one!â€
Fraternally yoursâ€¦ Ron.