22 years, 10 months and fourteen days ago, I and 19 other people walked into the Keeter Training Center for our first day of work as firefighters for the City of Raleigh. As a group, we weren’t very diverse: we were so white we were brighter than a welding arc, to steal a phrase from a friend. In fact, the only splash of diversity was one lone female. We’ve come a long way since then, in more ways than one. Back then, the majority of the trucks were Mack CF’s, stripped down to what now seems like the bare essentials. Unsynchronized manual transmissions, mechanical pump shifts and a driver’s seat that was so rounded on top you had to cinch your seat belt so tight it cut off the circulation to your legs just to stay on it. They were definitely a no-frills ride. Especially if you were a new boy (or girl. That’s what the RFD calls new firefighters); then, you sat in the jump seat out the breeze. Which wasn’t so bad when the weather was nice. And, we all know, the weather isn’t always so nice. Depending on the time of year, I’ve snuggled up to the engine cover or shied away from it more times that I care to remember. Nowadays, we ride in fully enclosed cabs with automatic transmissions, heat and AC and power windows. One thing has remained constant, however, and that’s the people.
In that almost 23 years (and the 8 prior to it as a volunteer in Guilford County) it has been my honor and my pleasure to serve with many outstanding people. From them, I learned more than just how to put out fires and treat wounds; I learned how to be a better person (some through positive example, others through negative). We worked together, we laughed together and, on occasion, we cried together. They celebrated with me in the good times and they held my hand in the bad ones. I can honestly say I have been truly blessed by my association with the Raleigh Fire Department.
I told myself that after today, I won’t be a Raleigh firefighter anymore, but that’s not true. My association with the RFD isn’t ending, it’s only changing. Like the Marines, once a Raleigh FF, always a Raleigh FF. I’ll admit I’ll feel a little pang of regret when I see flashing red lights or hear that big ol’ Q wind up. But, change is the nature of life and I do look forward to doing something new. Remember this, I love each and every one of you like the brothers and sisters you are and you will always have a special place in my heart. If you’re ever in Greensboro, look me up. You’re always welcome.