My experience with Billy-Bob left me even more apprehensive about my up-coming meeting with the “Big”. The Big Chief was an outsider, he hadn’t come up through the ranks of my department, he had been imported from of all places California.
Even though he had been on my job for at least ten years at this point, he was still an outsider, which had the possibility of being an advantage or disadvantage. He had formed his opinion of me all by himself based on personal experience or you could call it close encounters of the TimO kind.
He had tried to get me help early after his arrival and had been subverted. He had given me a last chance contract six years earlier following my suicide attempt, and here I was washed up on his beach again. I’m sure his first instinct was to get a big stick and roll me back into the sea like a beached whale.
I waited outside his office not a conference room like I had imagined. His office manager was the sweetest lady and she chatted me up. By her actions I could have been there for an award or a promotion, it was a bit disturbing her jovial demeanor.
“Want some coffee Tim? She never called me TimO.
“Yeah please, I’m a bit dry throated.” I was dry on the inside and pouring sweat on the outside. As she got coffee she continued the chat.
“How are the kids? Those girls of yours are just beautiful, they look just like…” She almost said it and caught herself, and in that moment gave away her own nervousness about what was happening.
“Little angels.” Nice recovery. She handed me the coffee and touched my hand at the same time.
“Just relax Tim. You know he does like you.” She would know.
The Chief called from his office.
“Tim come in and close the door.” Wow it was just him and me.
“Take a seat.” As I looked at his face it hit me. What a shit job he must have. He really looked utterly fatigued. Now I’m not going take all the credit here for his outward appearance, he was after all the Chief of a huge department and a politician in many regards.
I might have been one of the rocks in his backpack, but I’m sure I wasn’t the largest. I wondered if now was the time he would put me down and stop carrying me around.
He didn’t speak for a few seconds; he was busy flipping through pages of a document on his desk. Then he looked up.
“Know what this is?” He indicated the paperwork.
“I can guess.”
“It’s another last chance contract and I haven’t signed it yet.” He flipped it closed.
“Tell me what happened TimO.” He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair. God he looked so disappointed, so exhausted, the size of my rock grew.
I had a quick choice, tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or in my mind be fired on the spot. I didn’t know the limits of his mercy at that point.
“I did it all boss, I got drunk again, stayed out too late and went to work hung over, hung over bad and got caught.”
“Why TimO? Why would you do that?”
“I can make excuses Chief, I could tell you about my supposed reasons, but to be honest boss, I haven’t a clue. I was in pain, not physical pain, just lonely and hurting. I went for a drink and ended up drunk again.”
He considered me and that statement for seven more heartbeats, that is how I was measuring time at that point, by heartbeats.
“I’ve never worked with you TimO, not out there, not in the shit and I wish I had. Because it seems the only way I know you is by this route, by my office as chief.” He leaned forward now.
“So I did some research, I talked to the men and women that do know you out there, and you know what they said?”
“I can imagine.”
“I don’t think you can TimO. You know what they say about you?”
“No sir I don’t.”
“They all say the same thing, from chief to plugman. They tell me if they could only pick one firefighter to go in a basement fire with, it would be you, and they tell me that if someone in their life, their mothers for example were hurt or sick, you’d be the paramedic they’d want to run the call.” He stood up now and grabbed the paperwork.
“You are damn good at what you do. You should be proud of that. But Tim you are a mess, you are a liability to me and I have thought long and hard about this, so I’m going to give you another last chance and be clear here. It is your very last chance. There have been voices saying it’s time to cut you loose, cut our losses.” He handed me the contract.
“So since I can’t seem to get your attention on this I’m going to make it hurt. You will pay for this out of your own pocket, I mean the rehab, the doctor’s visits, the co-pays, whatever it costs you pay it not me or my department, and I’m giving you ten shifts without pay. You step out of line one time and you are gone. You understand this, you got any questions for me?”
The sadness in his face was gone, he was pissed, and I knew who the voices were calling for my firing. He had taken beating on my behalf to do this for me. I couldn’t let him down.
“No sir I don’t and thank you.” I stood up.
“Don’t thank me TimO, get your shit together. You are probably one of the brightest guys I got working for me. But I won’t stand in the way of your fall-out again.” He shook my hand and then lead me to the dreaded conference room.
That is where all the white shirts and gold badges were. He had done me one more favor and said what he needed to say in private.
I still talk to this man today he no longer works for my department and is a Big again out in California, and if I could I’d work for Manny again, but he’s smarter than that. Thanks Chief.