Firefighting can be an intense, stressful and challenging career. The profession comes with layers of working perils that encompass dangers from direct threats such as fires, to environmental challenges; specifically, the weather. Canadian firefighters work in physically demanding conditions such as the extreme cold wherein skin freezes and the blood flow to the extremities can be adversely affected.
Whenever my husband would come home from working during the winter, especially following a particularly nasty cold snap, he would comment that when he retired, we would be spending our retirement winters somewhere warmer. Over the years it became a familiar refrain, “When we retire, we are NOT going to be here in the coldest part of winter”. In his vision of our future, January, February and March would be enjoyed elsewhere. We would winter in areas where snow was only a picture on a calendar.
The other benefit that my husband would tout as retirement approached, was the ability to take a trip whenever we wanted. No travelling in accordance with the holiday schedule. No changing shifts or counting lieu days to determine the optimum dates to book a vacation. When we retired, we would be able to pick up and leave any time we wanted. If we found a great travel deal, we could jump on it and go.
My husband retired but had to wait a few years before I could do likewise. It was only in the last few years that we were able to kick start our retirement dreams and begin to take advantage of the benefits that our new-found freedom offered. We managed to get a few years of winter travel in, and while away, we would happily follow Ottawa weather reports from whatever location we were enjoying. I confess that we were not above sending photos to those still working, of us basking on sunny beaches. When it came to flaunting our fun in the sun, we had no shame.
In March 2020, we were in the third month of a trip to North Carolina. We had rented a house on the water and the weather was warm enough for us to walk the beaches and golf. Many a photo of us lounging on deck chairs with drinks were sent back to Ottawa. When Covid struck the world, we, like so many others, immediately returned to Canada to await the end of the pandemic. We knew at that point that a Baltic Sea cruise we were to take in May, was being cancelled, but given what had happened with the Covid spread on various ships such as the Emerald Princess, we were not upset. Let the virus die down, a vaccine be developed, and we could all get on with life. What…six months at the most?
We had a cruise booked for that September and when it too was cancelled, we were not surprised. With two cruises cancelled and one land vacation interrupted, we were eagerly looking for other travel options.
The Retired Ottawa Firefighters Association (ROFFA) had organized an Ottawa Firefighters Reunion Cruise in the Caribbean for November of 2020. Although we had not signed up for it, we started to think about it as a possibility. That cruise, with 209 confirmed bookings in the group, had all the promise of a great vacation experience and it had only been the timing of it that had prevented us from originally signing up. But before we could come to a decision, word reached us that the cruise had also fallen victim to the impact of covid and was cancelled. We were saddened that so many of our friends were disappointed when the trip could not go forward but all were in agreement that it was not the time to take a cruise.
We believed that 2021 was going to be so much better however, our winter trip to Africa was cancelled. Clearly, we were going to have to winter in Ottawa. We dreaded the prospect.
In January, February and March of 2021, we watched the snow fall, complained about the cold and learned to enjoy brisk walks on days when the temperature was -10 or above. Netflix, Amazon Prime and U-tube became our go to entertainment.
Spring and summer held the promise of better things to come and we started to scour travel websites looking for interesting places to visit or warmer locations to winter in 2022. Once again, we would give the proverbial middle finger to winter and enjoy more palatable temperatures elsewhere.
We found and rented an apartment in Albufeira, Portugal and we were going to join some other ROFFA members and friends for February and March. Then the omicron variant of covid struck. Europe started to impose restrictions, the Canadian government imposed a travel advisory, and we had to cancel our plans for Portugal. We also had to postpone our May pub and castle trip to England, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland which had a number of ROFFA members travelling in the group. The promise of a fun trip once again fell victim to the global pandemic situation. We simply could not travel at will.
Here we are in the winter of 2022 and as we did last year, we are watching the snow fall, complaining about the cold and taking brisk walks on days when the temperature is -10 or above. The subjects Dan covers in conversations with his fellow ROFFA retirees are not travel specials or delightful restaurant meals. They talk about covid restrictions, cancelled trips and whether there are any remaining series on Netflix or Amazon Prime that they have not watched.
As winter weather embraced Ottawa, Dan lamented that covid was ruining his retirement plans. “This is no different than working at the firehall, I can’t travel when I want to” he declared. However, in recent weeks, given the number of fires and incidents that Ottawa Fire Services has responded to, and in light of the heavy snowfall followed by bone chilling cold we have experienced, his disappointment has been curtailed. He may not be in a hotter climate, but he is definitely warmer than those called out to serve in the darkest, coldest hours of the night. Retirement is not looking so bad from the comfort of a fireside chair.