Lee Price still lays out his clothes next to his bed so he can be out the door in less than a minute.
That habit, born of more than a quarter century of Price’s 24/7 commitment as a volunteer firefighter, will die hard — if at all. “Probably for the rest of my life, I’ll be going to bed having what I need — shoes, pants, shirt — set up there,” said the 46-year-old Milford native.
He is gradually accommodating other adjustments to his life after recently retiring from the Milford Fire Department. For the first time in decades, Price bought a pair of shoes with shoelaces. “I always bought shoes I could just slip on” in an emergency.
Now he’ll have some leisure time to tie his shoes — and partake in other diversions. He no longer has to jump to the sound of the tone of his handheld radio, something he has done an estimated 2,500 times in the past 27 years. And he can sleep soundly all night, knowing he won’t be called to an emergency in the middle of the night.
Counterbalancing those perks, though, is the reluctance to leave a department and comrades who became such a profound part of his life. “It’s a tough thing to retire,” Price said. “It’s hard to stop doing it. There is something about the guys who have each other’s back. All the time I served we had excellent chiefs and the community’s support has always been unbelievable.”
Even though he hails from a line of fire volunteers, “I really didn’t grow up with it.” His great-grandfather, grandfather and dad all served with the department, though his father had retired by the time Price joined in 1987.
But he found a reason other than obligatory heritage to stay on. “It’s kind of the brotherhood that keeps you in.”
Price cites the most fulfilling aspect of his time on “the force” as “being able to help people” such as “being able to rescue somebody out of a car or a house.”
He also commends the department for its commitment to educate the public about fire safety. “We have a huge drive for people to get (smoke and carbon dioxide) detectors, and we regularly go to schools and do teaching for Fire Prevention Month. The kids will go home and make sure their parents change the batteries in their detectors.”
Price saw many changes during his service. “We have computers in the station and in the trucks now,” he said, “and we have an infrared heat gun we can point and tell if there is a fire in the wall.” He also observed “the general public is more aware” of fire safety precautions nowadays.
Price participated in the department’s semiannual fundraisers, and was always impressed with the turnout. “We are blessed in this area with the town and the township taking care of the fire department. We don’t have to worry about equipment breaking down,” he said.
He credited his chiefs (he served under six of them) with being “good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.”
He and Diana, his wife of 15 years, have raised four boys (now aged 19 to 22) in a blended arrangement. “We raised them since they were little and don’t distinguish a difference.”