John Greene was working factory shifts at the Ford plant, and his wife at the time knew he didn't like it.
She didn't like the idea of him being a police officer, and coaching to stay involved in athletics hadn't panned out. But she did know some women whose husbands were firefighters. Greene, about 10 years removed from graduating with the William Chrisman High School class of 1976, asked what it took become one.
“They said, 'Just take a test,'” he said. “I passed it.
“I had no idea what I was getting into. But once I started, I got hooked.”
About a year later, he joined the Independence Fire Department. In 2014 he was promoted to succeed Sandra Schiess as fire chief, and now Monday marked his last day on the job before retirement.
Doug Short, deputy chief for three years after two years as a battalion chief, was tabbed last month as Greene's successor.
Greene, 59, announced his retirement in September and said he still enjoys the job and wasn't itching to leave, but he wants to spend some good retirement years with his family.
“It's time to spend time with the grandkids and let somebody else take over,” Greene said during his last week on the job. “This place won't miss a beat.”
The retiring chief had hoped to start with the department in 1986, but at the time the city hadn't finished building stations 9 and 10 yet, so he didn't start until July 1987. In 1998 and again in 2006 he was named the city's Harry S. Truman Firefighter of the Year.
Greene said the camaraderie of being in the fire department, a feeling that harkened back to his football and baseball days in high school, is what hooked him. It's one thing he also said he'll miss the most.
“My whole life was sports, and then getting here you get shipped off to a site, you get done and you're high-fiving,” he said. “You feel like, 'I've done this.' It's a like a giant locker room.
“You spend off days working side jobs with them, and your families spend time togethers.”
Many times, he said, families came to the station and celebrated Christmas with the firefighters on duty.
“It was one big family thing,” he said.
From his time as chief, Greene said his two biggest points of pride are helping to foster a good relationship between administrators and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 781 union, and the two sides working together on the “Addressing Cancer in the Fire Service” initiative they finalized last year. Spurred in large part by Fire Captain Rick Winship's death from cancer in 2015, that agreement outlined cleaning measures for the firefighters to take to prevent cancer deaths caused by chemicals emitted during fires.
He pointed to recent joint ventures such as the “Stop, Drop and Shop” with children at Walmart and the new recruits and promotion ceremony held at the IAFF hall. In past years that latter scenario would've been unlikely at best.
“As administrators, we knew we needed to make that split disappear,” he said. “We're never going to always agree – no family always agrees – but we're all one department.
“It's our new motto: One department, one community, one city.”
If there's any regrets, it's that they didn't do more cancer prevention earlier to prevent a death like Winship. He also wishes the City Council had not voted to alter some building codes in hopes of encouraging redevelopment.
“I understand the economics of it,” he said, “but as a fire chief I don't ever like seeing codes cut. I made my case to them.”
Greene said he'll still be part of the committee planning next year's events for the 175th anniversary of the Independence Fire Department, and Chief Short knows he's only a phone call away if any advice is needed. But once the clock hit midnight Christmas Day, the work phone was turned off.
“I'm 59, almost 60, I've got 11 grandkids,” he said, “and it's time to watch them grow up.”