The recession presented Sara Riley an opportunity in 2009 to get out of the high-anxiety world of being an entrepreneur.
Riley had run a family painting and contracting firm, Enterprise Painting, along with her brother, Josh Moffett. The company was one of the fastest growing in the region in 2004, when Riley, then Sara Moffett, was named a 40 under 40 winner in the Business Observer. But work dwindled and Riley eventually sold her shares of the business back to her father, John Moffett.
Yet Riley's next career choice, to many, is even more stressful: She's a lead paramedic for the Sarasota County Fire Department. Her unit is basically an ER on wheels. Riley and her crew go from accident scenes to nursing homes to fires. And she loves it.
“This was the best career choice I've ever made,” says Riley. “Running your own business is a nonstop stress. This is a different kind of stress. There is a stress on calls, but there is a start and a stop to it. With this job, I do my 24 hours, then I go home.”
Riley recalls the pressures of meeting payroll and responding to issues, with clients and vendors, mostly out of her control when she was a business owner. The slowdown in work only brought more stress.
The move to become a paramedic, while her passion now, wasn't an easy decision. With a degree in social work from Florida State, Riley knew she wanted to work with people in a way where she can provide immediate help. She was also pre-med for a time at FSU. But when she came home the day she officially left Enterprise in 2009, Riley, then 30 years old, says she had an “Oh my God, what did I do moment.”
Riley's interest in medicine didn't include med school, but a paramedic gig seemed like a good fit. She went to training school for two years, where she plowed through 40 hours a week of classes — many times with people 10 years younger. With a young daughter at home, Riley says her husband, Jay Riley, director of alumni programs at USF Sarasota-Manatee, was a huge help. Jay Riley took a second job for a time to make up for lost family income.
Sara Riley heard some good advice right before she started her training: A few veteran firefighters told her to take the hardest classes, accept the toughest tasks and make yourself stand out. “I never wanted anyone to say I got ahead because I was a woman,” Riley says.
A Sarasota native, Riley started with the Sarasota County Fire Department in May 2011. She works on a schedule that's usually 24 hours on, 48 hours off. She can't envision a time when she goes back to being a business owner. “I actually see more of my family now,” Riley says. “I'm a better wife and mother.”
Blast from the past
Here are some of Sara Riley's responses to the questionnaire when she was a 40 under 40 recipient in 2004:
Formula for Success: “I feel that success comes to everyone differently. My view on success has nothing to do with money or power. My personal success is going to bed feeling that I have accomplished something for the day and to wake up the next morning and be excited to do it all over again.”
Favorite book: “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee.
Book on nightstand: “The Face,” by Dean Koontz.
Described in one word or phrase: Humorous
If I had it to do all over again I would ... take a little more time to look around and enjoy everything I am so lucky to have.