Early retirement ….

Lt Curtis Baron Gibson retired from the Roanoke Fire/EMS Department today. He gave 28 years of service.

He was more affectionately known as “Smurf” and I will miss seeing him around the firehouse.

Smurf was hired June 11, 1984.  His first 5 years was spent between Stations #1 and #3 before he was assigned to Station #6 on October 12, 1989 …. he would spend his next 22 years there.

A little over a year ago, Smurf found himself fighting a personal illness that carried over to the job. He was then reassigned to Station #5 where he would finish out his career.

He got a great send off …. I only wish it could have happened 2 years from now. That’s why my title says “early” retirement… we don’t get our “full” retirement until 30 years of service. We have a set “multiplier” and obviously, each additional year of service equates to a larger retirement check.  We also have what is called the “rule of 70’s”. We can retire anytime after becoming vested but if you don’t meet the “rule of 70’s”, you will not draw a check until age 62. If you meet the rule of 70’s (when your combined age and years of service add up to 70 or above) you begin drawing a check immediately.

It used to be, when we got hired; it was a given that you’d pull 30 years …. you WANTED to do 30. Now, it seems like everyone is simply reaching for the Rule of 70’s and looking to get out as soon as possible. It’s sad. There are many theories out there as to why that is the mentality today but that’s a whole seperate post.

Anyway, it was a good send off.

Chief Adkins somehow found the old “Day Books” from Station #6.

He found the pages from the day Smurf was first assigned to the station as a firefighter as well as from his first day as a Lieutenant (which was also at #6).

That was an AWESOME gesture / gift!

Pride, Honor, Respect, Tradition and Brotherhood!

Smurf’s heart and soul was at station #6. Not long into his assignment at #6, he caught a good fire (which was not uncommon for #6… it was a BUSY house). Those of you on the job know what  I mean by “good” … it was bad …VERY bad. Heavy fire, VERY hot, zero visibility etc. They were 1st in and he was behind my dad on the first line in.

Something went wrong. At the time, we were using the old Scott air pack (with the low pressure hoses) and when Smurf went to take a breath, his mask sucked to his face. In his own words, my dad learned that night how fast Smurf could “un-ass a building”. He go out, quickly changed his mask and got back in behind Pop. He quickly encountered the same problem and was forced out a 2nd time.

This time, he changed out the entire pack and made his mind up that this problem would never happen to him or any other member of the Department again.

Soon, Smurf would become our official Air Pack Technician and set up shop out of Station #6.

It became his passion … he knew our lives depended on his work and he put his heart and soul into it.

He moved us from Scott to MSA and then eventually back into Scott. He serviced / maintained the packs, bottles and even our masks ( back then, each pack had a mask we all shared …. it was due to his efforts that we now all have a mask individually assigned to our members).

Air Packs were not his only contribution to our Department.

Smurf was very instrumental in our moving from smoke ejectors to PPV.

He was just as involved in our switching from 1 1/2″ hand lines to 1 3/4″.

He played a huge role in designing the specs of our Grumman Engines. Those truck were GREAT to work off of. Everything was low and easy to reach. Compartment space was good, they ran and pumped great. They were the most “fireman friendly” trucks we’ve had to date.

He made the biggest impression on me when I made Lieutenant. Smurf was assigned to B-shift and I was sent to #6 C-shift.

Dad was still on the job but was now driving the Chief out of Station #1B.

My step-mom was dying of cancer and, needless to say; it was a very rough time for our family.

I needed to be by her side but just as importantly, I needed to be with Pop.

My Captain ( on C-shift ) was well known. He was well known because NOBODY wanted to work for him.  I could tell you a million stories on this man. Instead, lets just say that I fully understand why he had the reputation he did…. it was not unfounded.

Well, with that said; Smurf came to me and offered a trade. He volunteered to allow me to take his position on B-shift (so that Pop and I could be together).  In return, he would have to work on C-shift with the  Captain nobody wanted to work for.

I don’t know if I can fully explain to you what a HUGE deal that was. I get emotional even today just thinking about it…. it was a favor that I will never be able to repay. I have and will NEVER forget what he did for me and my dad those few months.

I hope our members will read this post and remember Smurf for all the “stand up” things he’s done rather than the time he stumbled. I also wish our Department would have done more to have help him make it to 30 years …. he deserved it.

We got to sit down together this evening for a little while and  look through some of his old news paper clippings and photographs. I know he’s leaving with some great memories as a Roanoke Firefighter.

Whats even better is that he has left and made some memories for those of us he worked with as well.

A good fireman, a good Officer and a GREAT friend….Thanks for everything.. good luck Brother!


 Stay Safe and in House !

Captain Wines