- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - When Firefighter Bill Kirlin Jr. heard the horns and the sirens of the trucks blaring last month at Wilmington Fire Station No. 4, it was possibly the last time a Kirlin would have a traditional “blowout ceremony” for retiring firefighters.

Kirlin’s son, Brandan, drove him away on his last day, just as Kirlin himself drove his father, Battalion Chief William T. Kirlin Sr., at his blowout ceremony in 1990.

Kirlin is a third-generation Wilmington firefighter. His grandfather, Deputy Chief Michael J. Kirlin Sr., was killed fighting a fire in 1955.

But Kirlin has steered his son away from a career in the fire service, perhaps ending the family tradition this year because, he argues, salaries have stalled and violence has increased in Wilmington.

“I wanted him to be fourth-generation WFD, but the money’s just not there,” Kirlin said. “I wanted him to learn a trade. It saddens me, but that’s what he has to do for him to have more than me and struggle less than I struggled.”

Kirlin said the economics of being a paid firefighter make people like him, sons of firefighters, a dying breed in the fire service. City firefighters start at about $35,000 a year and max out at $59,000.

Brandan, 17, will graduate from high school soon and has been accepted into a union electrician apprenticeship program. Brandan said he still might seek a career in the fire service if his apprenticeship doesn’t work out.

City Fire Union President Bruce Schweiger wished Kirlin well and said he did a lot of good for the union over the years. But Schweiger offered a different perspective on the current state of the force. A city firefighter is still a desired and coveted position, and the tradition of sons of firefighters joining the force continues, he said.

“If we announced there was a new fire academy today, hundreds of people would apply,” Schweiger said. “A recently retired officer has a son who came on the force four years ago, and another firefighter just asked me when we’ll be hiring again because his son is interested in joining.”

The 55-year-old Kirlin said he decided to retire while driving to work in March, a day before he would start his 30th year on the job.

“I was driving in one day and said, ‘I think I’ve had enough,’” he said. “My father retired at 59 after 35 years on the job. He was dead at 69. He paid all those years into the pension and collected it for only 10 years. I want to collect it for 30 years. I think I have a shot.”

A new schedule instituted a couple years ago that has firefighters work for 24 straight hours, then have three days off, then work another 24-hour shift had been taking a toll on him. Often, he’d go on several fire calls during a shift, then struggle to make it in to his second job as a teacher’s aide at Hodgson Vo-Tech. He teaches auto body courses there and helps coach the girls lacrosse team.

After 30 years as a firefighter, which he said was filled with “trauma and drama,” he laughs when people ask why he would want to deal with a bunch of high school students.

“Two years ago, I gave chest compression on a 15-year-old kid who had been shot and wound up dying,” he said. “Dealing with a kid who might have a crappy attitude in a high school is easy and rewarding in comparison.”

Kirlin said the first highlight of his career was getting on the job in the first place. Having a dad and an uncle in the department could sometimes be a hindrance, not a help, he said, as sometimes the decision-makers in the hiring process might not like your relatives.

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