“I wish from the day I started in July of 1980 that I had kept a journal every day,” says Captain Joe Earman. “I wish I could remember everything I have seen or done in my 35 years on the department. We see so many calls and we put it all in the back of our mind until somebody asks ‘hey remember this call we went on a year ago?’ ”
Joe is a 4th generation Floridian, and third generation Vero Beach native. His wife is Liz, and their sons Ben and Sam were born here. He retired today, November 6, 2015 after 35 years of service to Indian River County Fire Rescue.
In describing the job, Joe explains, “We don’t have emergencies. We are there to solve problems. That’s our philosophy. If we have an emergency, that’s a bad thing. That means one of us got hurt or possibly killed. We are supposed to go out there and save lives. I try to teach all my young people so that hopefully they will keep their focus. They will keep calm and clear heads.”
I stopped by Station 3 last night to have dinner with Joe and his crew on his final shift. I asked a few of them to speak about Joe.
"I have known Joe over 25 years," says Bruce Anderson. "We played softball together all the way back when I was hired in 1988. I know his wife Liz and his kids. I watched them grow up from babies into young men. Joe has always been a great officer. He has held every office in the professional firefighters associations. He has been president of Vero Beach Firefighters Association, the Fair. He started our Honor Guard. He has always brought tradition to the department. In my opinion he is the best Battalion Chief we never had. I love him like a brother and I always will. He will be sorely missed. Very, very much so. He is the definition of tradition. My hope is that a lot of it rubbed off on us. Especially the younger ones, because I am only a couple years behind him!"
Speaking of younger ones, Luke Oliver as hired less than a month ago. "I was a volunteer first though so I knew him a little bit. Very nice and very experienced. I know as new guys as a whole we are trying to soak up everything - take all the advice he can give us while he is still here. I am happy to have met him."
Rob Young says, "I have known Joe all my life. I have worked 28 years with him. We have fought a lot of fires together. I have probably fought more fires with him and learned more from him than anybody. He is an excellent leader. I was stationed with him most of my career. We have seen a lot of things together. He asked me and Keith to come down and be with him on his last couple shifts. So he drove the engine a while ago instead of sitting in the other seat. Tomorrow morning when the tones go off, it is going to be tough. He is a good man. There is nothing you can say bad about him."
Chris Matherly says, "He was my first officer when I was a probationary firefighter in October 2008. He spent my first shift with me and it is an honor to spend his last shift with him. He taught me the ways of..."
"Get your feet down," Joe interrupts, scolding him for having his feet up on the desk.
"He may be a short timer now, but not that short," I joke.
Chris continues, "He has always been there for me and he takes care of all of us. When my son was in intensive care, he took care of my time-offs so I could focus on my family. That is the kind of man he is. I also learned the hard way - don't let him beat you to the truck on a call! He does not like waiting on you! Seriously though, I have learned everything from him. You always feel safe going out on a call with him because you know he has got everything under control. And if he gets excited, then you better get excited too because something is fixing to go wrong! He doesn't ever get excited! I am going to miss him."
Ryan Cappelen says, "My family and his family have been friends for a long time. Our grandfathers knew each other real well. I knew of him before I met him."
"The legend," I say. We laugh.
"Yes," he confirms. "Then three years ago when I got hired, he took me in like his son. Showed me the ropes and made me what I am today - ha I don't know how great that is! - but I can never repay him for what he has taught me as far as firefighting goes and being a paramedic and doing your job well and taking pride in it. And life lessons as well. Being a good husband, a good father. I just got married so that is a big thing! We are going to miss him. It is like losing our dad here."
Joe tells me how it is fitting he ended up at Station 3 for his final shift.
"I worked out here at Station 3 as a fireman, and in my career as a Lt., I was mainly at this station so I spent many years here. When you are a Lt. you take ownership of it - you are responsible for it so it becomes your house. So it was kind of unique and fitting that I ended up back here for my last shift."
He remembers one stretch of time at Station 3 where he had 6 working structure fires, 6 shifts in a row.
“But the biggest memories I will leave with is the camaraderie we have here,” he says. “The things we do here, the things we say and the things we talk about. Not necessarily the calls, but what we do together. We are a real family. I will probably miss that most.”
Here is a slideshow of about 46 photos I took last night and this morning:
I came back to the fire house this morning around 6:30 am to videotape his big send-off. The tradition when one retires is for dispatch to sound all of the tones of each fire house in the county. Then each station pays their tribute one by one over the radio. Here Captain Joe Earman is honored at the end of his last shift with Indian River County Fire Rescue at 7 am on Friday November 6, 2015.
Thank you Captain for your service and your good, good heart!
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.