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Former firefighter becomes bus driver and is set to retire in April

Landen Pate
Jim Meyer wearing his firefighting helmet.

Jim Meyer is a bus driver for Rockford Public Schools and is also a retired Rockford firefighter. When Jim graduated high school, he didn’t plan on becoming a firefighter.

   “I did plumbing right out of high school and got an apprenticeship,” Mr. Meyer said. “But the interest rates in 1979 went through the roof.” 

   Meyer said this halted the construction that kept him employed, leading to lay-offs. Luckily, he met someone who introduced him to the fire service.

   “From there I went through a couple of jobs, and I met a guy at a machine shop. He was my boss and a retired fireman,” said Mr. Meyer. “He kinda got me interested in it and I thought, ‘Man, I can work one day and then I’m off two, I can make a decent living and retire when I’m 50.’ It seemed like a rewarding job.”

   The Rockford Fire Department finally hired Jim in 1985 after he placed eighth on the test used to evaluate potential firefighters—the second time he took it.

Jim’s old engine five firefighting helmet. (Landen Pate)

    “The first time I tested I ended up too far down on the list, and the second time I ended up number eight, so that was the ticket.”

   After joining the department, Jim became a paramedic, and eventually was promoted to driver engineer.

   “I came on as a firefighter and had to become a paramedic, and then after that, I was promoted to driver engineer. I’d drive to the scene, you know, and work the pumps. But when the officer was gone, I had to move over and be an acting lieutenant for half the time.”

   Jim said medical calls could be just as memorable as fires.

   “Some of the med runs where I had a code and brought them back [to life], and they came to the station later to thank us” said Mr. Meyer, describing one patient’s out-of-body experience. “One guy came back and said ‘I saw all you guys, I was hovering over my body and you were doing this, you were doing this, and you were doing this.’ He pointed us out and said what we were doing.”

   Jim also spoke about his calls that weren’t necessarily dangerous but were a little bit unusual.

   “We had a lot of fun ones too: ‘Ghostbuster calls’ people seeing ghosts, and a lot of weird stuff, something you’d see on the old show ‘Emergency.’”

   Even though Jim doesn’t drive fire trucks anymore, he’s still finding a way to help out his community by driving his school bus.

   “Getting the kids home safe, to and from school, it’s kinda something to tide me over until I totally retire.”

   Even though Jim used to run into burning buildings, he actually says bus driving can be just as stressful as firefighting.

   “The bus driving is stressful. Maybe it’s because I enjoyed firefighting more but it’s mainly little kids. It’s a different kind of stress but yeah, it’s a stressful job. When I first started the kids weren’t as bad as they are now, but they’ve gotten bad. The elementary is out of control.”

   When Jim fully retires at the beginning of April, he plans to travel across the country after serving almost 30 years as a firefighter, and 10 years as a bus driver. After driving students to school for so long, he’s ready to learn more about the world himself.

   “I want to go down Route 66 because I really like history and go wherever the road takes me,” said Mr. Meyer. “I want to go on a dinosaur dig in Montana, and go gold panning in Colorado.”

A photograph taken during his previous firefighting career shows Jim Meyer running toward a burning building.
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Landen Pate
Landen Pate, Photography Editor

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