After a career in a service that has seen myriad changes in the past 36 years, my dad retires from the Kennebecasis Fire Department today. Having achieved the rank of Captain, the time has come to close this chapter of his professional life and move onto what he observes as “leisure activities”: namely more hard work. I’m proud to share some of the images I’ve taken of my Dad and some of his peers at work over the years.
My father has never been much of a man to relax. Many people work for a lifetime and retire to a fishing boat, a sunny southern state or just a recliner in front of daytime TV. A firefighter’s career is a brutal, enduring punishment on the body, the mind and the soul. My father came through the ranks in the decades before firefighters were put on pedestals as heroes. In those days, the fire department was a place where the bay doors were open facing the Rothesay Common. A place where kids would pop in on bikes, where there were usually a couple firefighters out front on old stacking chairs smoking and chatting with the foot traffic. These days it’s different. “Mayberry FD” has gone institutional in a new secure building by the highway.
My dad has tolerated these changes along with his generation of firefighters, the transition from a quiet community fire service to a quickly growing regional department with first-responder responsibilities. I don’t envy his last 10 years of work. The toll of a life in high-risk physical work has not been cheap, and my dad has a knee replacement to show for it. I remember being asked at a young age what I was going to “be” when I grew up, and understandably there was a time I would reply quickly that I wanted to be a firefighter like my dad. As I grew into a young man, I knew that life was not for me. It takes a unique sort of person to deal with the crushing emotional and physical demands this job places. The brutal car wrecks, the drowned kids, the livelihoods lost.
To operate under these conditions and continue to be a productive and generous adult is commendable. I am not made of this stuff. All this and my father has quietly and consistently cheered me on throughout my life, chasing goals that sometimes made no sense to him. My thanks will never be enough.
He’s come through this life with his customary sense of humour and a refusal to slow down for anything. When I was young he often held three jobs. I suspect now it was as much to keep active as it was to support his young family. Long hours and shifts over holidays were a fact of life when I was growing up. I never heard a complaint then or since regarding the responsibilities of work and career.
By my dad’s estimation, there are two distinct varieties of man you can encounter. You’re either a bugger to work, or you’re hard on equipment, the latter among the worst reviews he could give a person. I’m happy to say my father’s a bugger to work, and will expire with his boots on many years from now. You’ve made me proud for as long as I can remember. Kudos on an important career.
The retirement ceremony on his last official day wasn’t Dad’s idea. It was a n honour he needed to be talked into. He addressed the group of almost 100 family and colleagues who had gathered to wish him well and told them the job he signed up for was about helping people at their lowest points, and that was enough reward. His advice to the next generation of firefighters was to be good to people no matter what, go the extra mile because you can.
I always knew my father was a well-liked and generous person, but to see this crowd of people gather in his honour was especially moving. 50+ firefighters lined the equipment bay to see him off, a full pipe and drum band playing. Dad danced a jig at the of the line, turned and said “That’s all Folks!”
After this, it was a hug for every person, a smile and a laugh, many stories and memories. I waited until the crowd had died down a little to load the TLR and see what was important to him to have recorded, then do a few portraits alone with the massive bay doors as light sources.
“OK, get over here, Sammy’s doing Black and White”
Dad wanted a photo with his crew, the best team he says he’s worked with in his career. He requested a photo with his protégé Anthony (Antnee, affectionately) and some other friends and staff.
After these, I asked him to take a moment and reflect on his career, the high and low points. A frank discussion which produced genuine expression.
“We had fun, but it’s been a long time. A long time”.
Images here are from Hasselblad 500C with 80mm CFT* Planar, as well as Canon EOS 1n. “Part 2” images are out of my trusty Rolleiflex MX, portraits with Rolleinar 1, Ilford HP5.