WAVING INTO RETIREMENT
Garrison Fire Protection Division firefighter Clay Doss and Capt. Ann Hill wave goodbye from the back end of a fire engine at Station 4. The friends are retiring at the end of May. They are members of the last generation of firefighters to ride on the tail board of a fire truck.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Between them they have more than 60 years of service as firefighters.

And now, at age 52, they've decided it's time for retirement.

Buddies Capt. Ann Hill, with 34 years and 10 months, and firefighter Clay Doss, with 33 years, retird May 31 from the Garrison Fire Protection Division with a retirement luncheon scheduled May 29 and a celebration at the river May 31.

Both have seen a lot of fire traditions come and go in their years of service. They believe they are probably the last firefighters at Redstone Arsenal to have ridden on the tail board of a fire truck.

"We used to stand on the bumper -- and it's a wider bumper -- and then hold on the top of the truck," Hill said. "Now, because of safety, we all have to sit in the enclosed cab."

Both got their start in firefighting while serving in the Air Force. But while Doss's career move was more deliberate, Hill wasn't quite sure about firefighting when she decided to follow his brother into the Air Force after graduating from Lee High School in 1979.

"I wanted to go into law enforcement. My mom was the first female police sergeant communications dispatcher supervisor, and my dad was a sheriff's deputy for Madison County, so I wanted to be military law enforcement," she recalled.

"My Air Force recruiter told me, after me telling him that I didn't get law enforcement, I was going to be a fire protection specialist. He laughed when I asked him what was that. He said, 'You're going to be a firefighter.' I had no clue, but I loved it."

After an 8 ?-year career with the Air Force that took her to places like Seymour Johnson AFB North Carolina, the Panama Canal and Maxwell Air Force Base, Hill became a civilian firefighter, working at Fort McClellan before transferring to Redstone in 1999. Doss came to Redstone in 1986 after his Air Force firefighting career at bases in Montana, Korea and South Carolina.

Hill remembers her first day at Redstone because it included fighting a duplex fire in the housing area off of Vincent Drive. Later that same month, she was part of a response team to a suicide at the Tennessee River.

"I thought this was a pretty busy place," she said.

Between the two, they have worked at all five fire stations at Redstone. They are now both assigned to Station 4 near the Redstone Airfield.

When you work long, odd hours -- 24 hours on, 24 hours off with three days off every two weeks or 48 hours on and 48 hours off with six days off every three weeks -- working at a fire station can feel like a second home.

"This is our family," Hill said of the 11 firefighters who are assigned to Station 4. "We spend more time with each other here than we do with our families."

Station 4 is a dual station, meaning its firefighters have the training to respond to both crash and structural emergencies. On any given day, its firefighters respond to car accidents, medical emergencies, fires and other calls. Both have worn the Sparky costume during Fire Prevention Week at Redstone and both have fought grass fires that are sometimes caused by rocket firings at Test Area 5.

Hill broke a few barriers to female equality when she came to Redstone. Although she wasn't the Arsenal's first female firefighter, she was the first female driver at Redstone and its first female captain.

"People still do a double take when they see a female driver," she said. "I hope I've helped to pave the way for other females interested in firefighting."

Both said that firefighting careers involve a lot of training and certifications through the Department of Defense and the Alabama Fire College. As a federal installation, the requirements to serve as a firefighter at Redstone are stringent. Besides being trained as a firefighter, certifications in emergency management and hazardous materials are now among the required training.

They both like to talk to young people about the career possibilities in firefighting.

"If you are interested in firefighting, join a volunteer fire department. Then, you can go on to join a city department or the military. The best way to get on at Redstone as a firefighter is through the military because of all the certifications that are now required," Doss said.

"Seventy-five percent or more of the firefighters at Redstone are prior military."

Hill and Doss will out-process together, and they plan on staying friends after retirement through the hobbies they enjoy.

After retiring, Doss and his wife Renee plan to travel, and ride motorcycles.

"It will be a never-ending break from work," Doss said. "I want to visit every SEC stadium in the conference and watch Alabama play football. And I plan on playing a lot of tennis with the U.S. Tennis Association league in Huntsville."

Both will live in Huntsville, but Hill will also enjoy her camper at Lake Guntersville, and Doss and his wife Renee will be visiting their oldest son, who is an athletic trainer and graduate student at the University of Oregon. Hill, whose niece is on the University of Alabama dance team, also enjoys Bama football.

Doss' wife has already surprised him with a retirement gift -- a firefighter edition Harley Davidson motorcycle.

"My wife is going to ride with me to Sturgis (South Dakota) next year for the 75th anniversary of the motorcycle rally," Doss said.

Hill will be getting herself her own retirement gift -- a poodle. She retired in 2012 from the Alabama Air National Guard as a deputy fire chief. Her ancestors include a grandfather -- 1st Sgt. Leo Boron -- who was a military police officer and who was a guard for Dr. Wernher von Braun at Redstone Arsenal.

The two friends have fought a lot of fires together over the years and have enjoyed fellowship outside of work that will continue long after retirement. And, sometimes, in retirement their firefighting experience and fellowship may be called on to help someone in need. Such was the case recently when they were together among friends from the Eagle Riders Motorcycle Club eating breakfast at a charity fundraiser at the Fraternal Order of Eagles when they were called on to save a woman's life.

"Somebody yelled, 'Anybody know first aid!' and we looked around and saw a woman slumped over," Doss said. "We all jumped up and got her on the floor so we could give her aid. Our friend Charlie Hellums (a trained cave rescuer and CPR instructor) did mouth-to-mouth. I did the chest compressions and Ann did the AED. We brought her back with CPR."

For Doss and Hill, serving as a firefighter has been a rewarding career.

"It sure did go by quick," Doss said.

Page last updated Mon June 9th, 2014 at 15:44