by Janice Limbaugh
Retirements, as retirements go, are considered special milestones. But the March 3rd retirement of Wyoming Fire Chief Bob Austin went above and beyond the typical retirement party expectation, and for good reason. Chief Austin’s retirement not only celebrated his 37 years of service to the city of Wyoming, but it punctuated an incredible 85-year legacy of having one or more Austin family member working in the city’s fire department. The dedication that started with Chief Austin’s grandfather, Edward Tilma, in 1929 carried over to his father James Austin for 43 years, and on to Bob from 1977 to 2014. Each man serving as Wyoming Fire Chief.
Meanwhile, Chief Austin’s uncle, Robert Tilma, also served one year with Wyoming in addition to 29 years with the Grand Rapids Fire Department as Equipment Operator/Dispatcher. The family is proud to note that these four men have given 146 years of combined service to firefighting!
As if that tidbit of information didn’t make the day special enough, March 3rd was also, coincidentally, the Chief’s 55th birthday – Wyoming/Kentwood NOW couldn’t help but wonder, ‘It’s your birthday and your retirement day – was this your gift to yourself or a promise to your family?’
Chief Austin: This did turn out to be a gift to me but actually that was the date that I reached my retirement age and so, after 37 years with the department, it was just time to leave. I have always said that the Fire Service is a ‘young person’s job and when you reach retirement age, you should go, so I was practicing what I preached.
Wyoming/Kentwood NOW: You had a heck of a turn out – how does that make you feel?
Chief Austin: I did indeed have a huge turn out which was truly overwhelming, and I was very humbled by it all…. sometimes you don’t realize the impact you have in your field.
Wyoming/Kentwood NOW: What would you say is your fondest memory of being Fire Chief?
Chief Austin: My fondest memory is reaching the goal of being Fire Chief – to be able to serve in a leadership position as my Father and Grandfather did and represent the Wyoming Fire Department, throughout the community as well as the State.
Wyoming/Kentwood NOW: So what are your plans for now?
Chief Austin: The first few weeks of retirement I am staying busy writing thank you notes! But I’m planning to stay involved in some of the regional committees that I have been a part of, and to enjoy the summer with my wife.
Wyoming/Kentwood NOW: When you spoke about your service, you said you couldn’t have done it without your wife Brenda. When duty called you had to drop everything and leave it in her hands –
Chief Austin: Yes, even the dinner check once!
Wyoming/Kentwood NOW: So she has been patiently waiting for this moment to arrive and it has. Now you’re off on a new adventure together! The only thing that I can think of that would make a perfect ending to a great story is if there Austin relatives stepping in to carry on the family legacy of serving the Wyoming Fire Department?
Chief Austin: No, not at this time.
ell it’s understandable that after 117 years of serving the Wyoming community, this family can step back and change course. All good thing must come to an end, but the long run has definitely been appreciated by the community. With that said, Chief Austin, his wife Brenda along with their grown daughters, Liz and Courtney, have the blessings of many to enjoy this new chapter of life together.