OLDSMAR — Scott McGuff has been fighting fires in Oldsmar since he was a senior in high school.
"I've been going to some building in Oldsmar where the big red trucks are parked for 30-some years," said McGuff, 53, the city's fire chief.
Sometime in January, he'll stop doing that. He plans to retire to spend more time with his family. His wife, Micheline, whom he met when she was a volunteer firefighter in Oldsmar, retired from her job as a Tampa firefighter early this year.
As a kid, McGuff never dreamed of becoming a firefighter. His family moved to Oldsmar from a suburb of Detroit in 1972. Four years later, he decided to volunteer for Oldsmar's department after other volunteers said their crew needed help.
It didn't take long to get hooked.
"There was so much camaraderie and you really felt a part of something that was important," McGuff said.
Back then, when the fire station was on State Street, the city had about 2,500 residents.
"A lot of times, when we went on calls, we knew these people," McGuff said.
His mentor, Lorenzo Hayes, served as volunteer chief until 1980. He helped McGuff think of fire service as a career and encouraged him to get an education to do so.
Hayes, 74, who now lives near Gainesville, recalls seeing leadership potential in McGuff.
"I kept pushing and telling him one day he'd be in the position he's in," said Hayes, who still visits McGuff every few months.
"He's A-1 in my book, just like a son of mine," Hayes said.
By 1983, the city had decided to hire professional firefighters. McGuff was among the first three hired. He started as a lieutenant, making about $13,000 a year. (As chief, his annual salary is now about $89,500.)
"We were so happy to be getting paid to do this," McGuff said. "We swept and mopped the apparatus floor every morning."
A couple of years later, after he was promoted to captain, he began serving as the city's fire marshal.
He was named acting chief in July 1988, after the city's former fire chief, Ross Willman, resigned. Three months later, City Manager Bruce Haddock chose him as chief.
McGuff, who was 30, was one of about 150 applicants for the job. Haddock saw promise beyond his years. McGuff had experience. He knew the community. And he was willing to jump in and do the work, Haddock said.
Over the years, McGuff's efforts helped advance the department and the safety of those it has served, Haddock said. The department shifted from providing basic life support to advanced emergency medical care. And McGuff's work in fire prevention played a major role in keeping people and businesses safe as the city grew to about 13,600 people, Haddock said.
This may not seem cutting edge now, but a decade ago it was: Under McGuff's leadership, Oldsmar Fire Rescue became one of a handful of departments in the state to install laptop computers in fire engines. That gave firefighters quick access to maps and building plans.
McGuff has also been a leader among his colleagues. Palm Harbor fire Chief James Angle said he's often turned to McGuff for advice because of the proximity of their departments and McGuff's experience.
As a firefighter and as chief in a small city, McGuff has worn a lot of different hats. While serving the Fire Department in 1987, he also worked as a code enforcement officer. A decade later, he served as city clerk for a few months. And twice, he filled in as the city's community development director.
Because of his seniority, he also covers for the city manager when Haddock goes on vacation.
As chief, he oversees 22 employees, including 19 firefighters. Members of his team describe McGuff as a kind, cool-headed, straight-shooting leader.
Fire Department secretary Pat Raynor said McGuff is "a fantastic boss."
"Every day he thanks me for my work and appreciates what I do," said Raynor, who joined the department in 1989.
He sat with her at the hospital when she fell and cut her lip at work. And he supported her through trying times, including the deaths of her parents and her brother, she said.
Oldsmar emergency medical services coordinator Aaron Gonzalez said he models himself after McGuff, who's cool under pressure when he supervises firefighters at a blaze.
More than anything, Gonzalez said, he'll miss McGuff's open-door policy.
"You can walk in his office at any time and sit down and talk to him," said Gonzalez, who has been with Oldsmar for 26 years.
McGuff can also be firm, he said.
"He doesn't mince words if you did something wrong. He tells you," Gonzalez said.
Capt. Dean O'Nale, who McGuff calls the "strongest inhouse candidate" to fill his shoes, said McGuff supports the firefighters and makes sure they have what they need to do their jobs.
"He's one of the reasons I've been here for 20 years," said O'Nale, who admits he originally wanted to work at another department.
"Within six months of being here, I called the other one and took my name off their hiring list."
McGuff is not sure what the future holds. For a while after he retires, he just wants to relax, spend more time with his 12-year-old grandson, Dylan, and travel with his wife.
Down the road, he may find work in emergency management or volunteer for a humanitarian organization like the American Red Cross.
"I have a hard time seeing myself going to work for somebody else from 8 to 5," McGuff said. "If I was going to do that, I probably wouldn't retire. I'd keep working in this job because it's a pretty darn nice job."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4155.