Home Madison John Lucille Reflects on 28 Years of Firefighting

John Lucille Reflects on 28 Years of Firefighting

Retired Madison Fire Department firefighter John Lucille with wife, Sherry

Article after article and research after research has shown firefighting to be one of the most stressful jobs in the United States, if not the most stressful job. After nearly 28 years with the Madison Fire Department, John Lucille recently stepped down from the driver’s seat of Engine 10 for the very last time and he says that he’s ready to relax for awhile.

“There’s a reason why most police and fire people in larger cities don’t last a long time because it’s a very stressful job if you think about it,” Lucille tells Madison365. “Can you imagine laying in your bed and the alarm goes off and all of a sudden you have to get dressed and it’s 10 below zero outside and you need to be out the door immediately? Then you come back … get undressed, lay down and just as you’re about to fall asleep, the tones go off again and you have to do the same thing. They found out from research that those tones create adrenaline spikes in your body. Can you imagine for 28 years going through that constantly?”

So, what you’re saying is that you aren’t planning on pulling a Brett Favre and un-retiring any time soon?

“No chance!” Lucille smiles. “This is the way that I look at it and I’ve been saying this for a number of years. You and I can complain about the sky and the moon, Scott Walker and whatever … but I could suddenly have a heart attack or an aneurysm and all the stuff that you’ve been worrying about all of those years don’t mean a hill of beans. I’m 53 years old and I’ve learned that life is way too short to worry about small stuff. You need to enjoy things now.

“It hasn’t been too long, but retirement has been really refreshing, I’ve really enjoyed it so far,” he adds. “But I’ll tell you that the last couple of weeks have been some of my busiest days ever. It’s constantly doing things. It’s a very exciting time right now and so far I’ve really enjoyed it. No regrets.”
As a little boy growing up in the Windy City, Lucille knew right away what occupation he wanted to pursue in his life.

“When I was a kid in Chicago, I would run to the front room every time I heard the sirens and look out the window to see the fire trucks,” he says. “It was something I was always interested in.”

Lucille’s family moved to New Jersey before settling in Madison and that’s when Lucille began to pursue his dream.

“I knew that I always wanted to be a firefighter but I knew that it would be kinda tough because there were so many people applying for very few jobs,” he remembers. “When I got hired they were hiring 9 people at the time … that was out of 800 applicants. It was very competitive.”

Lucille has worked at fire stations all over the city during his career starting at Station 2 on the west side by the old Chi Chi’s on Grand Canyon Dr in 1988. In 1995, he became an apparatus engineer, in charge of driving the fire truck and ladders.

Twenty-eight years is a long time and there have been many changes in firefighting over that time.

“The fire engines and the ladders, themselves, have changed over my time in the department,” Lucille says. “Before when we had enclosed cabs, everybody would ride on the back of the engine. Over the years, the city purchased new vehicles and now there’s a lot more technology compared to when I first started.
“There were no computers on the ladders back in the day; it was just a pump and a driver,” he adds. “Another big thing is that everybody is using e-mail and social media in the department. When I first started, there was no e-mail. There was a computer at the station to dispatch into. Things have changed so much in that regard.”

The firefighting force, over the years, has gotten much more diverse, too. “I was hired in ’88 and I came to the station where me and two other black firefighters were [the] #9, #10, and #11 black firefighters in the whole city,” Lucille remembers. “So the diversity has really increased since those days, even with the women … there are three times more women working now than compared to back then.”

As a firefighter in Madison, has Lucille ran into any problems as far as racism?

“I’d have to say ‘no.’ There were a few small instances, but everybody was pretty accommodating,” he remembers. “I do remember an older black firefighter talking about racism back in the day like in the ‘70s. He’d go to a certain station and people wouldn’t even shake his hand. That was the mid-’70s. When I came aboard (in the late ‘80s), some of those same people were still [working] there, but they were nicer.

“At least they were to my face,” adds Lucille with a laugh.

Lucille says that he really formed some special bonds with his fellow firefighters over his 28 years.

“When you think about it, it’s a very small brotherhood of people who do what we do,” he says. “We do what a lot of people don’t want to do: trying to save lives and preserve property … going into burning buildings when most people are running away. I remember the old joke: How smart can firefighters be if they are running into a building where even rats are running out of it?

“But we truly have each other’s backs,” he adds. “We enjoy each other. In 28 years, I’ve never had a big issue with anybody. We’ve had small issues along the way but nothing major. At the end of the day, we cook together, we hang out together, we sleep in the same spot … we can’t have too many issues with each other.”

John and Sherry Lucille
John and Sherry Lucille

In spring of 2015, Lucille told his wife that the coming year would probably be his last year with the fire department. Sherry Lucille, an author, speaker and a counselor at Madison’s Memorial High School for 28 years, decided that was something she wanted to do, too.

“She said, ‘If you leave, I want to leave, too!’” Lucille recalls. “I said that I didn’t have a problem with it.”

So, the Lucille’s will enjoy retirement together. Lucille tells Madison365 that he will miss the people the most. Interacting with the public was one of his favorite parts of the job. Lucille says he’s met a lot of great people over the years.

“I will definitely miss the people I work with and the people that you see in the community. It’s not the fire chief or the mayor that is your boss, technically, it’s the people of Madison, in my opinion,” he says. “Every time I would stop at the store and there was a little kid who wanted to see the fire truck, I would go out of my way to show it to them. The people are our boss and you want to show them your appreciation. I will miss the people a lot; especially the kids.”