The other day, my best friend retired from 25 years of service in our department and all I could muster was “See you around”…
I’ve traveled the country with this guy, had great times, shared sad times, laughed and cried together, learned and taught together, and even fought some fire together…yet all I could put together is some bullshit line like I had just bumped into someone I hadn’t seen in since high school and won’t ever see again.
In my defense, my department isn’t the best at retiring our firefighters….and always has. With the exception of those who leave from the top spots in our rank and file, we leave it completely up to the retiring members company to put something together. The usual “tradition” is that all of the on-duty companies make it by the firehouse to congratulate them and then they have a steak dinner with the family for supper and the retiring member goes home for the night. They actually get off the rig at 5 pm. This is tradition because we had a Chief die on his last night in a building collapse. We have pretty much done it ever sense. However, there is no policy for retiring. We are working on it though.
Add that on top of believing whether or not Willie was retiring…and the late notice he gave. Luckily, I was able to swing by for one last photo of him on the job.
Throughout the past several weeks as I knew he was applying for the Lt. position in Lexington FD (VA) he has been upbeat and happy as can be. We have talked and I am happy to see him leave happy.
But just how did I get to know Captain Willie Wines Jr.
One day during my recruit school back in 1999, we stopped by #6. Willie was a Lt. on E6 another recruit started opening up compartments on E6. Jeremy Bennington (now a Captain) was that recruit and stands about a foot taller than Willie. When Willie saw him snooping around he walked right up and toed up to Bennington and started chewing him out. It was funny as hell…but we didn’t laugh. That was it. For the next several years I knew who Willie was, but wasn’t around him much.
Fast forward to around 2007…I was an Lt. at #13 and ran an unofficial blog about the department. Willie was down the road at #9 and started one up as well for #9. Through the blogging, and running calls together, we became friends. Eventually, we started travelling together to fire conferences and the rest is history.
Here’s the thing about Captain Wines…
He is a one of a kind. He is a character. He will be missed among the ranks of this great department.
Captain Wines would do just about anything for anyone…anytime. He is rough, opinionated, and speaks his mind…but he is original and truly cares about others. He knows he’s not perfect…and knows you aren’t either. HA.
As far as firefighting goes, he is one of the best we have had in my time. He’s a smart aggressive firefighter and people follow him.
He was named Firefighter of the Year at least once by the Roanoke Fire Fighters Association, and made several “saves” in his career. He is a second generation firefighter who followed in his fathers, Willie Wines Sr., shoes. I feel certain that it was difficult to retire and walk out the door for the last time as a Captain of our department, but I am sure that he made the right choice.
I could keep talking about how great he is, but it won’t get me anywhere so I will stop…
Even though it took a while to get to know Willie, I think we are very similar. Minus the mustache, farming, cowboy boots, southern drawl…ok, maybe we are very different and that is why we got along so well.
I can honestly say that Willie Wines Jr. is my favorite slightly educated, gruff, 120 pound soaking wet, tougher than he looks, trouble-making, fretting, epic mustache wearing redneck LIEUTENANT I know!
Congratulations on making it 25 years, in one piece…with your health. I wish you all the best at your new job as a Lt. in Lexington.
I will be seeing you around! The guys in Lexington are good to have gotten you!