Retirement: What now?
I was sitting at my desk on a Friday morning in January eight years ago, just turning on my computer and getting ready for the day’s work, when the fire chief walked into his office, in civilian clothes, threw his keys on his desk and said “I’m retired”.
July 16, 2018 By Denis Pilon
Although we all knew he could go, he gave no indication he had made a decision or picked a date. In fact, up until the day before, he was still controlling everything with an iron fist and ensuring we made no decisions without his approval.
Well, now it is my time, and I am doing things a little different. Personally, I am going through all the same issues that everyone facing retirement goes through. I’m not sure I can survive on my pension income. I wonder what I will do every day. I wonder how I will care for my wife and family and how we will get along full time. And of course—worried about having to decide what to wear every day after wearing uniforms for close to 50 years.
What about the fire department? Will it survive after I leave? Have I set it up for success or failure? Do I have deputies and assistants that are trained and qualified? Have I given them the tools to survive? Have I developed long term planning, master planning, and operational planning that is laid out in a format that is useable into the future?
To start with, if the answer to any one of the questions above is yes—then the real answer is no. The entire previous paragraph was written in the first person. I didn’t need to do any of this, but ‘we’ needed to do it all. First, about a year ago I let everyone know that I was ready for retirement and would be leaving in the summer of 2018. I didn’t give an exact date, but that doesn’t matter, everyone knew there was a deadline.
Part of preparing for retirement is to train others in your responsibilities. That doesn’t mean you stop working and download your work to others, it means you give them the opportunity and responsibility and allow them to learn what you do. Our budget process has always been a team project with each of the deputies responsible for the portions in their portfolio. This last year, they developed the portions that were my responsibility and learned how I have done it in the past. The teamwork has ensured that I am replaceable.
Over the past few years, we have developed a succession plan that includes formal education plus opportunities to act in higher positions. This helps ensure that others are ready to move up, not just to the chief’s position but also to deputy chief, or captain, and includes the recruit hiring process. Throughout the past eight years, we have developed a master plan, a succession plan, a business continuity plan, an emergency plan, and other plans and procedures. Although I may have led many of these projects and did a large amount of the work, they were all developed as a team, and are in writing and usable after I leave. They are also very easy to edit, update, and change to meet the needs of a growing, responsive department.
So, what’s in the works for the last six months of my career? I would be thrilled beyond belief to see the transfer to a new chief be done in a seamless manner. I have talked with the City CAO to discuss my replacement process and, hopefully, my successor will be named before I go so I can work with that person to transfer my knowledge. Confidential files will need to be destroyed or handed over to my successor. This is a tough job as some of these files may be of use to my successor, but others were for my use only and will serve no purpose to my successor so I will have to spend time going through them all.
We have started a number of projects I will never see to completion, the main one being the construction of a new fire hall. From day one, this project was a team effort with the deputies and committee members from the firefighters as well as input from all members. My role has been to lead the process and keep it going in the right direction as well as ensuring every possible scenario was open for discussion. The schematic phase is now complete and in January, we will start on the formal construction drawings. I need to ensure the team is following a proper process but they need to make all final decisions. As much as I want to be part of this project, I will never work in the new building so I need to step back and let those that will work in it make the decisions.
Indeed the time has come. I have shared my knowledge and we have built a department and system that will continue to thrive, grow and succeed long after I am gone. It has been a wild ride, we have a great team, and I have loved every minute of it.
Denis Pilon ECFO, has retired after 35 years in the fire service. He served as fire chief in Melville, Weyburn, and Swift Current, Sask., and was an active member of the SAFC, CAFC, and IAFC serving as a director or on various committees in these associations. Denis has been a regular contributor to Fire Fighting in Canada magazine over his career and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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