The fire bell rings and all police officers and firefighters snap to attention, standing tall and stiff, hands at their sides, eyes locked forward. As the firetruck rolls in, the siren is let loose in honor of North Shore Fire Department's Heavy Equipment Operator Robert Lewis' retirement after more than 30 years as a firefighter.
Lewis is a third-generation firefighter with deep roots in Southeastern Wisconsin, beginning with his grandfather's time as a firefighter in Ixonia. Tuesday morning, dozens of Lewis' friends, family and co-workers attended a ceremony at NSFD Station 1 in Brown Deer.
An official fire department escort brought Lewis to the station. As he stepped off Engine 1, he was welcomed by an official color guard, other firefighters and police officers. He was then presented with a retired American flag. He thanked his friends, family and co-workers for attending but said, most of all, he wanted to thank his parents.
”Dad, I'm glad that you're able to see your son retire."
"I have so many people to thank but one of the greatest pleasures for me today is that my mother and father are alive to see this," Lewis said. "My father was a firefighter for 35 years in St. Francis. Dad, I'm glad that you're able to see your son retire. Thank you for all you've done for me, and everybody in the fire service."
Lewis Lewis is Robert Lewis' father and his history with the fire department began more than 35 years ago when he said he chased fires with his father in Ixonia.
Robert Lewis began his firefighting career before he even finished high school in 1976, joining the St. Francis Volunteer Fire Department.
Just two years later, he was hired full-time by West Milwaukee and stayed until 1991, when the Milwaukee Fire Department combined with West-Milwaukee. In less than a year, he joined the Glendale team and in 1996 was promoted to HEO. That year, he also became the coordinator of the first cadet program at NSFD, which Lewis said he will miss very much.
NSFD Chief Robert Whitaker presented Lewis with the retired flag during the ceremony; Whitaker has worked with Lewis since he started as a firefighter.
"This (cadet) program has brought so much to our department in terms of excitement, depth of staff, involvement in the community and development of our area youth," Whitaker said. "Much of this program is a credit to Bob Lewis and will continue to be a credit to him."
And while he won't be able to give back through the cadet program any longer, his generosity will continue in a more personal sphere.
"I want to spend more time with my family, take care of my parents," Lewis said. "Maybe give a little bit back to them. I just want to rest and regroup."
Despite looking forward to spending more time with his family now that he's retired, Lewis said he will miss that rush that comes with running to a fire.
"When we do go red lights and siren, we ... go emergency to a fire, that adrenaline is just indescribable," he said. "Just two days ago, we had a structure fire and it just boiled me up inside because, it's like — we got to go to work. You miss that."