Retired But Still Uptight

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Honorable Mayor Berke and Distinguished Council,

I wish to start by giving you some information of myself. My name is Charles McMillian and I am a retired battalion chief with the Chattanooga Fire Department. 

Dec. 6, 1985 is a day I will always remember because it is the day I began a proud career with the Chattanooga Fire Department. Upon graduation from the Fire Training Academy I was assigned to the EMS division of the fire department as a firefighter emergency medical technician. Thru the fire department I received training at Chattanooga State to acquire a paramedic license which I still hold today. I served in various capacities within the ranks of the fire department, ultimately achieving the rank of battalion chief after 26 years of service.

Dec. 24, 1998 is also a day of my career that I cherish in high regard. This is the day that I along with co-workers unselfishly put aside our health and safety and entered a burning apartment to rescue three children from the building. This fire was the result of a madman arsonist and it had rendered these children unconscious and trapped in an upstairs bedroom. I will never forget as we arrived on the scene meeting the father in the yard pleading me to rescue his children. His arms were covered in blood from cuts he had received while trying to get to his kids. The children suffered burns from the fire but they all lived. In my opinion the hand of Almighty God enabled me with the strength and courage to achieve this task.

Pomp and circumstance followed this event as we were honored by the Chattanooga City Council and the Tennessee Life Safety Council for heroic lifesaving measures. My co-workers and I received the Chattanooga Fire Department Medal of Valor for Lifesaving and recognition from the Tennessee Life Safety Council as a result of our deeds. These awards paled in comparison to the experience I encountered during the ceremony. The rescued children and their parents were seated directly in front of us and I will never forget as the 3-year-old little girl turned in her seat and looked at me. Her little body still bearing the scars from the burns she received. As she looked at me she began to smile and waved her little hand. My heart swelled with pride as I realized that I had made an impact and achieved the highest pinnacle a firefighter can ever hope to achieve.  

The incident above describes the best of times, but now I wish to share the worst of times. A warm pleasant summer evening that quickly turned to tragedy. Picture this if you will. A mother sitting on her  porch holding her 8-month-old innocent child in her arms when suddenly an unnamed bullet loosed from a gun with intent to harm struck this child in the crown of her head. We performed valiant resuscitative measures but they were unsuccessful in saving the life of this child. Directly after this call I found a discreet place away from my co-workers and wept in silence.

I am not trying to gain recognition by relating these incidents but merely wishing to give you examples of what the rank and file of the Chattanooga Fire and Police Departments encounter throughout their career. The emotional events do bear a living testimony to the lives of these men and women. We immerse ourselves in silence to spare our families the hardships we have endured and the tragedies we encounter. The stress and physical detriment to our bodies is evident with national statistics pointing toward shortened life spans. Prevalent cancers along with cardiac and respiratory diseases are rampant throughout these careers. Firefighters and police officers are called at a moment's notice and are expected to rise from a state of rest to performing extreme tasks without preparation. Decisions are made instantaneously to preserve life safety and prevent loss of property. Heightened awareness is present daily on the job. It is never a good thing when that bell sounds. That bell reminds us that a citizen is experiencing a life changing event that could mean a loss of property or far worse a loss of life.  The men and women of the Chattanooga Fire and Police Departments swore an oath to serve and protect the citizens of Chattanooga and we do it with honor. I have worked alongside some of the finest individuals who represent the best human qualities one can ever imagine. Our dedication to the careers we have chosen is outstanding and exemplary.

Finally the day arrives. The day of retirement where we can all relax knowing that we gave our best.  The day we know that the safety of our citizens will be left in good hands with the brightest and well trained individuals who remain vigilant waiting for that bell. 

As I look forward to the retirement years I am still unable to relax. The reason being is that an uncertain future is on the horizon. The future of deserved retirement benefits that I worked so hard to obtain can suddenly be reduced with the stroke of a pen. The decisions that you all make will impact lives forever. I beg of you to please reconsider your actions and seek a more respectable solution than reducing our benefits.

Politicians will come and go but we will be there every day awaiting that bell. 

Charles McMillian
Battalion Chief (retired)
Chattanooga Fire Department

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