Well, it has been three months since I retired from the public sector fishbowl. Since I left, lots of folks still on the job ask me two questions: 1. How is the new job going? and 2. Do you miss it?
The new job is great. I’m the corporate health and safety coordinator for an industrial cleaning company – Coastal Industrial Services out of California, with offices up and down the west coast and Hawaii. They just expanded into Texas as well. They are growing fast and evolving, which means my job duties are fluid. One of the most exciting aspects of this company, and one of the main reasons they wanted me on their team, is their vision to expand business lines. I’m excited to see what the next few months reveal during this expansion. Yet, this old warhorse is also challenged by the relative new found freedom from bureaucracy and regulation. Creating new business lines is all about vision, creativity, “can do “attitude and a strong “push the edge of the envelope” approach. It is taking some getting used to.
It is difficult to go from a position of intuitively knowing almost everything to knowing nothing. Everything from learning how to run the copy machine to understanding the complex safety permitting requirements for the various oil refineries and mills is a big challenge. Adding to these challenges is the evolving corporate changes related to growth, meaning I stepped into a corporate culture where rules, roles and responsibilities are a moving target. In some ways this is good, as I have been asked to help influence change; especially on the safety and health side of the house.
The next few months will be nuts, as our business expands at the same time we begin spooling up for refinery and mill “turnarounds”, hiring hundreds of temporary employees. I suspect the past couple of months have been the calm before the storm.
Do I miss the job? Sure I do…at least parts of it. I miss the camaraderie of the highly skilled and professional department heads and staff officers I worked with. I miss my support staff, who always went out of their way to help this old guy figure things out (Boy, I really miss them now when I get stuck in Word or Excel). I miss seeing Bellingham firefighters and paramedics working their magic on emergency scenes. I also miss their sense of humor and family. And, yes, I miss going on calls.
I certainly don’t miss the pager. Always knowing my world could be disrupted at anytime, anywhere was a previously unrecognized major stressor in my life. The night before I retired, I told the incoming interim chief that I had turned in my pager, and slept like a baby. Perhaps this simple act was the most symbolic aspect of letting go. Since 1990, I had been tethered to a small plastic beeper that apparently weighed 10,000 lbs.
I don’t miss the politics. For five years I tried to resolve a long simmering intergovernmental dispute about how paramedic services were being delivered. During this time, my professional and personal character was attacked, even as I worked at keeping it strictly business. This unfortunately affected my professional and personal relationships, especially at home. I finally took a realistic look at my chances in convincing others of what I still believe is the best model for service delivery. In doing so, I suspected I was likely part of the problem, not the solution. I’m hoping new BFD leadership will be able to preserve our internationally recognized EMS program. Our citizens deserve nothing less.
Finally, I don’t miss the budget process. My previous chief, whom I deeply respect, left in 2003. He was smart enough to see the budget writing on the wall. He understood the next few years were likely going to be brutal. Little did he know how bad it was going to be. Out of the 11 budgets I worked on, only two included program additions or enhancements. Of those two budgets, I still had to cut other line items to keep overall costs down, including shutting down our dedicated ladder truck, rescue program and fireboat (I was fortunate to have had a collaborative union executive team who “got it”, and helped us come up with creative solutions). But, the new administration is going to have their hands full coming up with further reductions that don’t reduce the department’s capacity in putting the wet stuff on the red stuff, and the white stuff on the red stuff.
So, in riding off into the fire service sunset I feel more relaxed, content and excited to tackle new opportunities and challenges. It is actually fun to be looking ahead, instead of always looking behind to see who was chewing my backside.