There’s more to the job than badges and bugles ….

15180945-0037-4d5b-b340-b62e3921ef38After 25+ years of service, I’ve officially retired from the Roanoke Fire / EMS Department!

My last day on the rig was back on July 12th and then I ran my vacation time out until Aug. 1st which was my official retirement date.

It was 13 years ago that my dad retired from the same Department with nearly 30 years of service. I got to ride with him his last day and he rode with me on mine! How cool is that?!?

The picture right is of me and Pop after a run at the end of my last tour. The picture below left is of me and Pop at the end of his last.

It’s a tradition within our Department to take a retiring member off the rig at 5pm (we work 24 hour shifts). The crew will usually fix a steak dinner, additional companies will stop by to say hello, tell a few stories etc and the retiring member will spend the remainder of the shift at home, safe in bed.

13645253_10206693597326302_6470190482149295935_nIt was a good last tour.

My Battalion Chief picked me up early and took me around to the stations to visit.

We caught several good runs after I got back to the house and Georgie (Lt George Perdue) gave me a fitting ride on each!

We ended the night with the boys at Station #5 for dinner, a cake and even a few more surprises… It was difficult and I guess a little “bitter sweet” to load into my truck that evening and head home but I also knew it was the right thing for both me and my family.

Fire Critic announces my retirement HERE

13625382_1215679958476445_5498551716299264073_nIt was a good 25 years…  I made it out!

I proudly followed in my father’s footsteps and worked along side some of the best people to ever wear the uniform.

I’m leaving with enough memories (good and bad) to write a book. I grew up in the firehouse and matured as a person, a firefighter and an Officer. I was taught by some of the best.

What I’m most proud of though is that I was able to make an impact on the Department, it’s members and the people we served. I wont go as far to say I left the Department better than I found it because it’s such a different Department today and I’m not sure it’s all “good”. Let’s just say that, like so many others before me; I made a difference (yea Mutter …I know…LOL).

0ae53061-dfc5-4b74-a26a-1b58a82b1a77The news of my retirement came as a huge shock to many… both inside and out of my Department.

The “word on the street” was that nobody believed that I could just “walk away” from the Fire Service. Well, they were right… I can’t and I’m not (walking away).

I said above that retirement was the “right thing for both me and my family” and it is. I retired from Roanoke City to accept a position in the nearby City of Lexington Fire Department (Va). That news has brought even more confusion / doubt.

You see, the position I’ve accepted in Lexington is a Lieutenant’s position.

Even my previous Chief has publicly asked why I would leave a Captain’s position in a bigger city / department to take a Lieutenants position in one much smaller. Of all the people, I would certainly hope that a Chief of Department would know that there’s more to the job (and our member’s happiness) than badges and bugles (rank). That there’s more to a Department than it’s age or size. Of course I guess that would depend on the Chief.

Lexington banner

Captain Willie Wines JrYou see, for many and whatever reasons; morale was at an all time low in my former Department… including mine.

The “culture” that the current administration has cultivated there [ in my opinion ] is simply not healthy for the Department or it’s members (it certainly wasn’t for me).

That has been (or at least should be) evident in the number of members ( young and old, vested and not, retiring or simply quitting) who have recently left.

I felt like I was at a dead end in Roanoke and I wasn’t happy. I hadn’t been in a while.

Lexington by cmscreativephoto comThe opportunity came up in Lexington and it looked exciting for many reasons.

As far as the career system goes, it’s a new and young organization (about 5 years old).  The volunteer system was established around 1796 and is where my dad started his fire service career. I was born in Lexington and grew up in surrounding Rockbridge County. I still have family there and feel like I’m going “home”. I am going home.

The Lexington FD members are refreshing to be around! They have an enthusiastic eagerness, understanding and a willingness to learn, grow and develop (as both members and a Department) that feels almost tangible!

It’s exciting to be in a leadership position for a Department like Lexington! I feel like I’m “back in the game”.  I hope that my experience, knowledge and leadership abilities will help grow the organization…. I’m certain we have GREAT things ahead of us!

13529188_1206267692751005_5696443785096633418_nPrior to the recent hiring process, Lexington had both daytime and some 24 hour career staffing. Lieutenant T. J Robertson has been the only career Officer (other than the Chief of Department and Fire Marshall) and worked a 40 hr schedule to enable him to effectively supervise all members.

This latest process resulted in the hiring of me and Lt. Larry “Mac” Clemmer allowing for the system to evolve into a 3 platoon, 24 hour system (still supplemented by daytime employees and volunteers). T.J and Mac are both seasoned veterans, Officers and Fire Service leaders. Each respectively bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge to the organization and I’m looking forward to working with them.

13528814_1206205389423902_1756556753665859510_nI should also mention that the Department continues to have an impressive roster of volunteers. The Chief has implemented  a “stipend” system that compensates the volunteers for their time / service and established a “Live-in program” as well.

From top to bottom … volunteer to career … senior member to junior you can see the PRIDE each takes in the organization.

Out of a single station, we protect and serve an approx 55 sq mile area including portions of I-81, I-64, facilities such as the campuses of VMI, W&L and Historic Downtown Lexington. It’s a daunting task and impressive response area.

Again I’ll say I’m EXCITED! Pre-fire plans, hydrant mapping / maintenance, territory, training, policy / procedures, record management etc all seem new and fresh again.

Captain Willie Wines Jr by Nate Camfiord edited 2My retirement check added to the new salary in Lexington resulted in a nice pay raise. More money, less stress, a clearer head and a better outlook on life and the job result in a better ME. I don’t care what they call me … Captain, Lieutenant, or fireman …. I’m the same guy. After making my decision, I’ve felt better in the past 3-4 weeks than I’ve felt in the last 3 years. It’s like a weight was lifted from my shoulders / chest.

My Roanoke Battalion Chief (and longtime and good friend Teddy Adkins) paid me several compliments. He said that I’m a “teacher” and to not confuse that with being an “instructor”. He went on to explain that even though I hold the certifications as “instructor” etc, I have a unique way of TEACHING members without reading from a book or slides… a lot of times without them even knowing I was teaching them something…LOL.  He also talked about my leadership abilities and how members were eager and willing to follow my direction. He described it as being seemingly “natural” which I think is easy when and if you lead from the front.

That’s what I plan to take and do in Lexington and, if successful; the number of stripes or the title on my badge wont matter! There’s more to the job than badges and bugles!

I’ll keep ya updated on the progress etc. Thanks for all the well wishes and notes of encouragement.

Stay SAFE and in House!

Captain Wines (Ret.)

  • Joe Lowry

    Willie, I’ve followed your blog for many years now and have read about the personal ups and downs you’ve cared to share with your readers. This sounds like a great opportunity for you. I wish you nothing but the best in the new position!