ESTERO — After 26 years of serving the community he loves, Estero’s first paid firefighter, Lt. David Ott, retired Thursday.
“The fire service has been good to me. Now, it’s time for me to slow down and let the young boys take over. You know, when it gets harder to keep up the young guys, it’s time to step aside,” Ott said, laughing.
Ott joined the Estero Fire Rescue as a volunteer in 1982 and was hired as one of only three paid firefighters on Jan. 26 1985.
During his tenure with the fire department, Ott, 61, has seen the department grow from a two-bay garage on U.S. 41 into a department of 66 employees with duties including Advanced Life Support, marine rescue and hazardous materials mitigation.
For Ott’s long-time friend, Brent Althouse, 47, Thursday was the last time he will be able to walk into the station in his normal way, greeting Ott with a bellowing “How ya doin’ old man?”
“Started out there were three of us, we would work eight hour shifts,” Althouse said. “From there, up to four stations all the way to new equipment, the admin building just exploded. But, when you look back at it, it’s still Estero. Still, a lot of the old timers’ around, though. That’s what keeps Estero, Estero.”
Crews from Estero Fire Rescue reported for Ott’s final roll call today at 7:30 a.m. The roll call was followed with a special breakfast and a final inspection of the troops. After the inspection, Ott and his wife were presented a flag that has been flying above the fire station, from Fire Chief Scott Vanderbrook, said Susan Lindenmuth, public relations manager.
“We’ve been around each other ever since the beginning, seen a lot of history together. It’s going to be tough,” Althouse said. “But, he’s not going to be gone. He’s probably going to be around here more now.”
Before Ott shut his office door one last time, he had a word of advice for other fire stations enduring tough economic times.
“We had rough times when we started in the fire service, didn’t know if we’d have a payroll or not,” Ott said. “But, we took it slow and it all worked out. Just need to step back and take it a little slower. (You) can’t have everything today, but maybe you can next week, slow down.”