PLANT CITY After more than two decades making sure that the city's 1,300 fire hydrants were in working order, Billie Garcia has called it a career.
Garcia turned 65 Thursday, the same day she retired from her job in the city's utilities maintenance division. Garcia said it wasn't an easy decision, but the back-breaking work got the best of her.
“My body says it's time to go,” she said on her final day on the job.
She knocked off work early so her fellow employees could say goodbye at a party. They presented her with a cake and a replica of a fire hydrant.
“There's no such a thing as replacing someone like Billie. You just move on and do the best you can,” said Wayne Everhart, superintendent of the utilities maintenance division.
Her immediate boss, Wayne Abercrombie gave her a hug, as did dozens of co-workers who told her farewell.
Garcia was hired by the city on Oct. 9, 1990. She spent a few months working on water lines before she was reassigned to the job she had for more than 20 years.
She regularly made the rounds of the city's 1,300 hydrants. She flushed, greased and painted the hydrants and replaced worn parts.
She worked in all kinds of weather, handling heavy parts and coaxing open stuck valves.
Fire officials say they appreciated Garcia's dedication because they always knew water would flow from a hydrant whenever they tapped into one.
Jon Stroud, water utilities maintenance foreman, said he first encountered Garcia 18 years ago when she came into the building supply business where he worked for bags of cement.
“She loaded them all herself. Her energy was just amazing,” he said. “We're sure going to miss her.”
Garcia said she'll keep herself busy in retirement by continuing to pursue her lifelong love of music. She plays drums in her latest band, Double Shot, which plays at the Moose Lodge, the VFW and other venues.
Still, it was hard to leave her job with the city behind after more than two decades, she said.
“I've enjoyed being here and I love every one of you,” she told her co-workers at her retirement party. “You are my away-from-home family and I'm going to miss you all.”
Everhart said the feeling was mutual.
“The city was a better place because you were here.”