Retired LA County Fire Captain, Dave McKnight
Retired LA County Fire Captain, Dave McKnight

We don’t usually start thinking about retirement until it is 5 to 6 years away. Throughout our career we concern ourselves with financial planning both for the time we are working and for the years after retirement. We plan for our health care needs for both during and after retirement. Many of also plan our children’s educational needs and this is all well and good.

Many years ago, when I first became a firefighter, it was said that the average lifespan of a firefighter was just two years after leaving the fire service.

Although now the retirement age for many, if not most, paid fire departments is 60 (at least in the United States), this was not the case some 40 or 50 years ago. A career firefighter was lucky to retire at 50 in good health. Because the mortality rate for firefighters was so high, growing old was not an option.

Back in the day breathing apparatus, if available, was not widely used.  In fact was often frowned upon by older, more seasoned firefighters. I can think back on fires that I had been on, charging into burning buildings with no self contained breathing apparatus on, coming out blowing black sooty snot out my nose, hacking and coughing and lighting up a cigarette. LOL. It was not considered macho to grab that breathing apparatus off the engine which at that time sat in a box and it was questionable if you even had the proper training to use or if it was properly maintained.

Fortunately as the years progressed sane minds prevailed and safety became the standard. With advancements in technology breathing apparatus became easier to use and and in most cases it’s use was mandatory. This greatly increase the lifespan of the career firefighter. Now a firefighter life expectancy is closer to that of the general population. So my question is what do you do with all that time after you retire? The point of this article is to address that issue. As I have found, not having a plan after retirement can lead to early demise of the retired firefighter. I’m sure most active firefighters at some point in their career have met a firefighter who has retired and out of sheer boredom spends much of his time hanging around the fire station talking with the fellas (or ladies). My last assignment we had a retired fire captain who would often bring a bag of groceries to the station on the weekends and prepare breakfast for the the on duty crew. This was well received by the crew but I think was an effort to fill those hours that are now spent away from the fire house.

When I retired, I found myself getting up on shift morning, grabbing a dozen donuts and going to have coffee with the fellas (and ladies). To a certain extent this is natural. Sitting around the table every morning talking trash for 30 years is not easy to suddenly walk away from. Many people can pack up the motor home, hook the boat and never look back. But what if you have no boat, no motor home, the kids are gone, the spouse may or may not be with you? Then what? You’re dragging a sack of groceries to your local station cause you have nothing else to do with your life.

This segment has to do with post retirement time management. The reason this subject is dear to me, my plans after retirement were to be a stay at home dad and take care of my young children while me wife worked. One month after I retired my wife left, took the kids and left me with a giant hole in my time with nothing to fill it with.

The first year or two after you retire you feel like shooting anyone who tries to wake you before 8 am. Once the reality kicks in that you’re retired then come the questions “What will I do today”? With the life expectancy of firefighters being what is today, that’s a lot of hours to fill. My point in this message to have a plan to manage those hours that can easily lead

Have a plan, have a backup plan and consider a backup to that. Firefighters generally retire before normal people and are left with endless amounts of time.

Get involved in community work, become a volunteer, take up golf, join organizations, become politically active, get involved in your church, join a bowling league, invest in property, open a business. My point is, have a plan on how to spend your life after retirement or you will die of boredom.


By Retired LA County Fire Captain, Dave McKnight

Notes on Firefighter Retirement
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