Carmel firefighter ends memorable 40-year career

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Carmel Fire Dept. Capt. Joe Butts is not a man who ever wants to be the center of attention.

But he agreed to a retirement celebration after 40 years with the Carmel Fire Dept. for one reason.

“This is a lost tradition,” he said. “The young guys coming up need to see this tradition.”

Although Butts, 62, didn’t give a speech to the crowd, he did greet and hug every firefighter who circled the area for the last traditional inspection check April 29 at Carmel Fire Station 45. Butts also heard a last call with bells and a message from a dispatcher signaling his end of duty. Fire departments from other communities congratulated him as well. He also received some traditional fire department gifts, like an ax and shield.

Butts, the longest-serving fire department member, was hired April 26, 1982, by the first paid fire department chief, Donald Swails. Butts previously spent four years with the Westfield Fire Dept.

Haboush said as a new firefighter 30 years ago he didn’t understand why Butts ran a “very tight ship.” But through the years, he began to understand the motives behind his demeanor.

“He expected everyone to do their very best each and every shift,” Haboush said. “The public counts on the firefighters to solve their emergency, and Capt. Joe Butts has delivered in remarkable fashion. Joe’s motivation is simple. He loves the fire service and the Carmel Clay community. By nature, Joe has always been a hard worker. This is part of his DNA.”

Haboush said Butts carried that passion through his final day. Butts spent most of his career serving on Engine 41, the department’s busiest firetruck.

“Your tradition of excellence and high expectations will be carried on by those firefighters you have mentored, and please know they love and respect you,” Haboush said.

Butts met his wife, Renee, in 1997 when she joined CFD as a firefighter working alongside him. They married in 2002. Their son, Drew Butts, is a Carmel firefighter as well.

“I got to work with my hero for 5 1/2 years. How many people get to say that?” Drew said. “On the rare occasions when my dad and I have been on the same truck will always be my most treasured memories.”

Drew said many firefighters like him worked in his father’s side businesses, such as landscaping and snow plowing. He demanded high standards on those jobs as well.

“Thank you for always setting an example and setting the bar high,” Drew said. “Thank you for holding me to high standards. Thank you for not only showing me what a good firefighter is, but what it takes to be a good husband and a good man and, of course, a great pawpaw.”

Drew, who lives in the Westfield/Sheridan area like his parents, said seeing the ceremony and the turnout is something he’ll never forget.

Carmel firefighter Cory Essex, Butts’ nephew, said Butts always exhibits selflessness.

“He’s always there when you need him,” Essex said.

Essex said Butts always believed that if you were going to do anything, do it right.

“After 40 years, you’ve done it right,” Essex said.

Butts said the time was just right to retire.

“Forty years, a lot of guys don’t do 40,” he said.

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