Tuesday June 24 was Toby Turner's final shift with IRC Fire Rescue after serving for 36 years. In my FIRE RESCUE book, Toby says, "I have seen my share of damage and destruction and death and I am ready to retire."
Still, it was a mix of happy and sad for everyone, especially for Tommy Dupuis and Dale Boyd who spent years riding with Toby on Ladder 1.
I showed up just before dinner, and as soon as I walked into the firehouse I got such a strong feeling of homesickness. Toby told me what he said to the crew at the start of the shift that morning: "A good friend can tell a story but a best friend lives that story with you. The story is my firehouse and the best friend is all of you."
I thank my lucky stars I decided to do the book when I did, and that I was assigned to ride with under Toby's leadership. This man is a real king. His leaving truly marks the end of an era.
Dinner was elaborate -- steaks and scallops.
Toby's wife Gwen and three sons Peter, Adam and Jacob came for dinner.
I came back around 6:45 the next morning in time to see Toby removing his gear from Ladder 1 for the very last time.
At 7 am, as is the tradition when one retires, 911 dispatch played all of the tones. Then each station radioed in their message to Toby. All of IRC Fire Rescue heard it over the radio. I got it on video.
Toby Turner - you are loved and we will miss you. Enjoy your Alaska cruise and hope to see you soon!
ADDED CONTENT ------> HERE IS THE STORY ON TOBY WHICH RAN IN MY FIRE RESCUE BOOK: “This line of work is not for everyone,” says Toby Turner in his deliberate, precise way. “I have seen my share of damage and destruction and death and I am ready to retire.”
Toby retires in July 2014. He can recite the months, weeks, days and probably even the hours left until he retires after serving 36 years of his life with Indian River Fire Rescue. (If you want to be really impressed, turn the page and read the history of his accomplishments).
“At the fire academy when students are there doing their drills wearing blacked-out masks, unable to see anything, having to feel their way because of smoke,” he explains, “that is when some people decide ‘maybe this is not what I want to do.’ Then when you get on the job after a while maybe you think ‘this is not for me – I don’t want those psychological things.’ I myself have never had any problem with PTSD, but it’s out there. How you handle it on your own and with your family and your co-workers is what keeps you OK. If you keep it bottled up inside and you don’t talk about it and don’t do anything that helps you with that – it becomes a problem. We come back to the station we talk and even joke about things. This helps us and that’s good.”
Toby describes their usual routine immediately following a call. “Whenever we finish with a call, we all get together at the back of the fire truck and we talk about what happened. What did you do, and what did I do, and this is why. It is a good time to explain to the newer firemen why we did certain things. We also talk about it right there especially if we had a death or some other traumatic experience. When you talk about those things as a group then it benefits you.”
This sense of team carries through in every aspect of work for Toby. “You have to be together as a team. You can’t be separate. You can’t be in your own little world. At dinnertime, we are going to fix a meal. We are going to eat from the four food groups. We all pitch in and pay for it. We try to keep it at $5 a person. We make everything from scratch, and we teach the young kids how to cook and work in the kitchen. At 5:30 we are going to sit down to dinner as a family. Then we clean up the dishes, and sweep and mop the floor.”
Toby spent his early years in West Virginia where his father served in the volunteer fire service. “The calls would come in and I would drive with him in the vehicle to the station where we would get in the fire truck together. Back then you could do that. I would ride in the truck sometimes with him or we would meet them at the scene at the call. He would say ‘YOU STAY IN THE CAR!’ And then he would go do some things and the next thing you know I am up on the fire truck talking to somebody. I was 5 or 6 years old. I was comfortable and curious. It was interesting to be part of that and I thought this is what I want to do.”
Toby moved with his family to Vero Beach in the 4th grade. “My Dad said he was not raising his family in a coal mine, so we moved.” Toby grew up in Vero Beach and started on March 7, 1978 with the Vero Beach Fire Department.
“The time to prepare for an emergency is not at the emergency, it’s ahead of time,” Toby offers. “That’s why we practice and train all the time because when a call comes in, whether it is 2 in the afternoon or 2 in the morning, you have to know what you are doing. We go from 0 to 60 in a matter of moments and we have to be ready for it. So we do the best we can.”
So how about that retirement?
“I like my work,” he says. “I enjoy serving the community. And I enjoy my family life. When I retire, I am going to be a world traveler. We have been married 27 years, and every year I save up a little money, and now we are going to spend it! Gwen and I already have our cruise and train tour booked for Alaska!”
In closing, Toby quotes Mark Twain: “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Toby adds, “It is important to show kindness and appreciation. Do the right thing.”
From November 2013 to January 2014, I had the rare chance to become 'part of the crew' as a photographer and journalist with IRC Fire Rescue over the course of four months, and I put a book together about it called MY ADVENTURE WITH INDIAN RIVER FIRE RESCUE.