CHICAGO – The longest-serving Chicago firefighter on the job is calling it a career after 41 years.
Jimmy O’Donnell has worked more calls for service than he can count. Starting in 1979, the battalion chief has helped save many lives along the way and bore witness to those who did not make it.
He’s been a witness to some of the biggest events in CFD history, including the excruciating heat wave in the summer of 1995 that claimed hundreds of lives.
“It was horrible, another thing we lived through,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell suffered an injury on the job that cost him an eye. He could have taken disability and retired, but chose not to.
“I wanted to stay,” O’Donnell said. “No regrets, I loved every day of it.”
For O’Donnell, it was always the loss of young lives that hurt the worst.
O’Donnell joined other CFD firefighters in New York City in the wake of 9/11. Some were left with PTSD from what they saw.
Now, he said caring for mental health of firefighters has improved.
“I first got on, there wasn’t much help for PTSD. Getting help, we talk among each other over a beer. Now, we have a great program that will help us if we need it,” O’Donnell said.
A born and raised Chicagoan, being in the fire service is all he ever wanted to do. He’d stay on if he could, but he’s reached the day of mandatory retirement.
“They are kicking me out. I’ll be 63 on Flag Day and that’s when we gotta go, so they’re firing in other words,” O’Donnell said.
With coronavirus and protests, the battalion chief has had a lot of action in his final year. He said it’s all part of the job.
For what’s next, O’Donnell said he plans to take his wife on some long-awaited traveling.