“On the job, you’re often seeing people on their worst day ever, and you have to do what you can to help them get through that,” Reno said. It is this sense of helping people that has driven Reno to serve his community as a firefighter since joining the District in 1984.
Now, pushing 60 years old and after nearly 30 years of service, Reno is retiring.
Being a firefighter wasn’t what originally drew him to the Beach. When he came to Fort Myers Beach back in 1973, he worked at the Sears Product Development and Merchandise Testing Laboratory over on San Carlos Island, where Salty Sam’s Marina now stands. It was during this time that he met his wife, marrying her in ’76, and thought he had a career for the rest of his life. It was not to be, for when Sears closed up the lab in 1983, he and his family moved back to Chicago for a year. However, they soon found themselves drawn back to the beach.
“A lot of us who have been here since the ‘70s have seen people come and go, and then several years later they’re back!” Reno said. “This place just has an attraction.”
Arriving back in Fort Myers Beach, Reno joined the Fire District’s reserves in 1984 and found himself at a crossroads in his life a couple years later. After two years on the reserves at the district, working under Captain Tommy Glover Sr., Reno started with the District full time in February of ’86. However, it wasn’t the only career opportunity placed in front of him.
“I actually had two choices: the Fire Department where I was already on the reserves, or the Bonita Post Office, where I was also working part time,” Reno recalled. “Within a 48 hour period, I was offered a job for both places.”
While the Post Office offered more money, Reno ultimately decided to go with the Fire District. “One day on, two days off. That one day can be crazy, and it’s dangerous. But having that time off allowed me the opportunity to try and start a family.”
Of course, “one day on” at the fire department really meant “one day,” where a full 24-hour shift was spent at the station. Doing the math, he estimated a 30 year career at the station equaled a 40 year career at a 9-to-5 job. “You’re averaging about 56 hours a week. Sometimes its two 24 hour shifts in a week, sometimes its three. It’s roughly 3000 hours a year here, versus 2000 hours elsewhere.”
The choice was an easy one for him for what he got out of it. “I just like helping others,” Reno said. “Helping people without expecting anything in return makes me feel good.”
“Overall, living and working in the community is a big asset,” Reno said. “If I was coming up to you during an emergency, and we’re friends, it’s like ‘thank God, a familiar face.’ That’s happened to me several times on calls.”
Location didn’t hurt, either. “Being a firefighter on the beach is pretty cool,” Reno said. “That goes beyond just the atmosphere, where you’re working next to the water. You don’t have the winters like they do up north, where you have to worry about frozen hoses and other equipment. However, down here the heat can be taxing.”
With only seven more shifts between him and retirement in November, Reno reflected on what he thinks will change the most in his life after the District.
“Sleeping through the night,” Reno said with a slight laugh. “That’s going to be a tough one to get used to.” He stated that he is always ready for the call at any hour, and that he could go from a dead sleep to being fully dressed and heading out the door in two minutes. “That is a part of the stress. The call could come at any time.”
Reno isn’t the only retirement FMB Fire Control District has seen in recent years. Just this year, both David Reckwerdt and Ivan Bestrom both retired. Tommy Glover, Jr., and his uncle Everett Glover both retired in 2014, along with Tom Edge and Jeff Adams. In all, hundreds of years of collected experience have hung up their equipment recently, with several others set to follow in the next couple of years.
“A lot of knowledge on how the community works is going to be gone,” Reno said. “It’s hard to pass that on. It’s something you have to experience.”