Tuesday, June 9, 2015


A couple stands holding their luggage as they prepare to travel on a train; the train operator and another man stand behind them in the wintry scene. 1942
(A couple stands holding their luggage as they prepare to travel on a train; the train operator and another man stand behind them in the wintry scene. 1942. Photo credit: Thinkstock)
Over 25 years ago a friend of mine, Bob Haynes, retired from the Los Angeles Fire Department. When he left he wrote this article about his career. I rediscovered the article in my archives. As I read “A Train Ride,” two thoughts came to mind. First, Bob hit the nail on the head regarding fire department careers, and second, nothing has changed. I took the liberty of updating some of the article terms, but the article is Bob’s creation. I hope you enjoy reading “A Train Ride by Bob” as much as I did.
When I first came on the job, I met a very well-respected firefighter. He seemed to be good at everything he undertook. I found, however, that he was not as happy as I thought he should be. He told me that he was going to retire. Having just come on the job, I was flabbergasted at anyone wanting to leave such a great job. He told me that it was time for him to leave because he was tired of all the “bull.” He didn’t want to stay too long and start disliking everything…and he was gone!

Now that I have gone down that road also, I reflect on the larger picture. I liken it to a train ride.

The train stops at the station and a very tired man gets off. As he leaves, a warm seat is open on the train, and you—a young and energetic man—are waiting to board. You have stars in your eyes and are eager to get going. You board the train and take the only seat available. It is warm and comfortable. You look around and notice men of all ages and sizes. They all seem to have one thing in common: they love this train ride. As the train gathers speed, all aboard seem to pull together. You, the rookie, look up and discover the beautiful scenery on each side of the train. My God, you think, What a wonderful ride! Why would that man have gotten off? But I’m glad he did, because I was able to take his seat. The train speeds down the tracks with an enjoyable hum.

As the years go by, you continue to bathe in the thoughts of all the wonderful things this train ride has to offer. You are trained well in everything, you can imagine. You are very confident in your abilities to keep this train going: up steep grades, around tight corners, but always on track toward the goal. At times you feel weary because of the workload, but you’re always ready for the challenge of what is around the next bend. As you become more involved in the ride, you begin to notice that you are surrounded by some of the highest quality people that you have ever known. These people would lay down their life for anyone on this train. Obviously you become closer and closer to them. You find yourself enjoying leisure time with them. You are involved in all phases of their personal lives. These people truly are your life.

When you had been on the train for many years, you start to notice the smoke from the engine. It isn’t bad, but you don’t like it. Each day you notice the clickity clack of those damn tracks. It isn’t too bad, though. The chief engineer is barking orders at everyone on the train, and the captain of each car tries gallantly to carry out those orders. Since you are an old timer, you can tell the difference between a good order and the “bull.” You often wonder how the poor captain can keep a straight face when relaying some of that fodder. They are generally pretty good at sifting through and keeping only the good stuff.

Each time the train stops at a station, some old timers get off. Almost immediately, their seat are filled with strong, smiling, and smart young men who begin to really enjoy this ride. It doesn’t take long for them to soak up the good stuff necessary to really be an asset to this train. But as you sit back in your seat, you notice that damn clickity clack. The smoke from that struggling engine is really beginning to annoy you. About this time, we take a real sharp curve, which throws you out of your seat. At that point, you decide that your ride is almost over. All these great people around you haven’t changed; you have. So, yes, at the next station, you get off that wonderful ride and leave your seat open for a wide-eyed, pink-cheeked young rookie to enjoy. You only hope that your peers have as much respect for you as you do for them.

Your wonderful ride is over. You hope that you leave the train a little better than you found it. You look away from the station and see a big beautiful world out there. You walk off the platform and into the rest of your life. From time to time you see that big train charging down the tracks and wave at those on board. You really miss the passengers on that train, but you don’t miss the clickity clack and the smoke belching from that monster you call the train.
Once again, thank you Bob. As I said in my beginning thoughts, he hit the nail right on the head. Most of us loved our fire department careers. We contributed our skills, experience, labor, and knowledge to the department. We entered buildings where people were running out of and sometimes we wished we could go with them. Our entire careers revolved around helping people. Our courage was tested on the fire ground and our character was tested in the fire house. We are proud of our careers and have made lifelong friends. However, over the years, things, conditions, and people change. Like most of us, Bob knew it was time to get off the train. 
Stay Safe
Paul Stein (Happily Retired)


Paul Stein retired as chief officer from California’s Santa Monica Fire Department. After retirement he served as interim fire chief for the Lakeside Fire Department in California. He holds an A.S. degree in fire technology and a B.A. degree in management. Chief Stein is a master instructor for the California Department of Education. 

All expressions are those of the author(s).

Thanks to Straight Tip and Paul Stein for permission to reprint this article from the April - June 2015 issue.

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