Three Yakima firefighters hang up their helmets - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Three Yakima firefighters hang up their helmets

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YAKIMA, WA - There will be three big roles to fill in the Yakima Fire Department. Today is the last day on the job for Station Captains Tim Whitehurst and Rocky Willette, and Deputy Fire Chief Ted Vander Houwen.

They've all spent more than 30 years of their lives serving the community, and even though they're retiring, they'll all miss one thing.

"The comradery amongst the crews, amongst all the people," said Whitehurst. "The Yakima Fire Department has some great, great people, and we stick together and I'll miss that."

Firefighters go through a process to retire, which takes a couple months. But it doesn't make their last day any less surreal.

"I feel like I'm just off on a set of days off," said Willette. "Maybe in a week I'll realize it. I talked to one of the other retired fellas here and he said it took about three years for him to feel like he was really retired, always just felt like he was on his days off."

As these men leave behind their careers as firefighters, they look forward to the next generation of men and women who may be thinking about joining the fire department.

And they have some advice.

"Invest in people. Invest in yourself. Get some education," said Vander Houwen. "We need people in the fire service with real world skills. This is a job where you have to understand the physical world and be able to work within in it and I look forward to finding people who come to this job with varied skills. Construction workers, electricians, and even the administrative-type people. It really thrills me to see the capabilities that people can come with."

If you combine all the years of service between the three of them, it adds up to 92 years! But now, they'll get to spend more time with their families and it's very well deserved.