Firefighter John Fischer retired from Palm Beach County Fire Rescue after 27 years of service, but like many first responders, he has never stopped giving back. Now 55, he runs Code 3 Events, Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports charitable groups, public service and special community projects such as Delray Beach’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Fischer spends much of his time playing the bagpipes at veterans’ event, fallen firefighters’ and police officers’ funerals and helping first responders and veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. He works with the HOW Foundation in Delray Beach, which helps people receive hyperbaric oxygen therapy for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.
At 10 a.m. May 19, he’ll be playing bagpipes at the Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Ceremony at the Delray Beach Police Department, 300 W. Atlantic Ave.
“I love to continue serving the community,” Fischer said. “I don’t think any of us really ever fully retire.”
He got his start with firefighting as a 17-year-old in Great Neck, N.Y.
“I moved to South Florida at age 20 and got all the certifications I needed. In 1986, I landed the job at Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.”
Fischer has stayed connected with firefighters locally and around the world through planning the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“As firefighters, we can walk into pretty much any firehouse in the world and sit down and talk and have a meal with each other,” he said. “We’re like one big family.”
Physically, Fischer recalls some of the biggest demands of the job involved walking into the unknown with 50 to 70 pounds of gear on his body. On the EMS side, running calls on infants and children always affected him emotionally.
“I was not a father and I could only imagine what was playing in the minds of my fellow firefighters who were parents as we tried to save children,” he said. “It’s something that never leaves you. Those are the haunting memories.”
The best part of the job for Fischer was the ability to save lives.
“When you snatch somebody off death’s doorstep and they come walking into the fire station a few weeks later to shake your hand and hug you, that’s what balances out the ones you were not able to save,” he said. “Having to deal with the grief and sorrow of telling a family you did all you could do to save their loved one is the toughest. Being a firefighter is a very gratifying and rewarding career, but some of it can wear on you.”
When new firefighters come to him for advice, Fischer always offers the same words of wisdom: “If you can avoid seeing something, it’s better to resist seeing it because you’ll never get it out of your head.”
“Joking around with each other and camaraderie between firefighters helps us cope and keep balance in our lives,” he said.
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