I am pleased to share the first letter in the "Dear Fire Wife" series. If you have a question, comment, or just want to share a story - please feel free to email me and I'll post your letter and my response (if applicable) here.
My name is Stacy*, and I'm from "Somewhere in the United States*." I came across your blog one day while I was searching for websites for fire fighter girlfriends, fiances and/or wives, I read through one of the posts and was hooked.
My boyfriend is a full-time fire fighter for the city of *****, and I'd like to ask you a couple questions.
I'm new to the fire department world, sort of. I am a 911 dispatcher, and I am the daughter of a sheriffs deputy so I'm used to odd hours, missed holidays, cold dinners etc., but only as a daughter. As a partner, do you ever get used to it? How do you handle it? I have two young sons that he has taken in as his own, how to I explain to them when Dad has to go back to work, or if they hear something is wrong with a firefighter and we don't know who or what is the matter? How do I handle it if that happens?
Another issue that has been raised, is they just hired a female who is getting put on his crew, I know he loves me and it isn't the jealousy side so much that gets to me... It is would she be as strong as the guys in the department? Is she going to be able to help the love of my life if he needs it, or he going to have to rely on a 2nd wave of crew to come in and help? I know these aren't questions you would be able to answer really, I don't know if your husband has any females on his department or not, but in your opinion, do you think there is way to come over this fear short of waiting for it to happen and see how she does?
I understand if you are busy, it sounds like you have your hands full, I was just hoping to get another opinion on how to start getting used to being a firefighter's wife.
Thanks so much,
*names, locations changed for anonymity
Thank you for your questions.
As far as "getting used to" the crazy schedule, missed holidays and family gatherings, I don't think that I so much as got used to it, as I accepted this as our way of life. My husband has been involved in the fire service for as long as we've been married, longer actually. Before he was hired full-time, nearly 9 years ago, he worked as a "part paid" as well as his full-time job as a general contractor. He was the President of the Firefighters Association on top of this, so you can imagine how often he was really, physically home with us.
During that time, our boys (who are 12 and 11 years old now) were very little, so I understand what you are going through. I had come from a family of firefighters, and so had my husband - so explaining that to our children was easy, it is in our blood. Living in a small town, where the firestation was just down the street also aided in the understanding that the boys got at an early age as to what and where daddy did his "fireman" work. Having him come to their preschools also benefited them and my husband was never shy about showing up and doing fire prevention education for their classes.
It's important, in my opinion, not to hide the seriousness of the job from young children, but not to glorify it either. Being a 911 dispatcher, I'm sure you understand this. Taking them to the firestation, bringing dinner or treats, keeping them in close contact while daddy is gone, reminding them that although he misses some birthdays, it is pretty cool to have a daddy who gets to be home on his days off when other dads are working. These are all small things that can help ease the distance when he is on shift. We still visit my husband at the firestation - even though the boys are older they still love to climb on the firetrucks and snoop around in the station. And the support he feels from us coming out there to spend time with him is priceless.
We stay involved in the family activities too. Even though our department is small (being at an airport) there are a lot of things that we can participate in as a family. This teaches the kids the importance of dad's work, as well as connects them to the children of other firefighters. They know that their "firefighter family" is always there for them, no matter what.
As far as the female co-worker is concerned, you probably don't need to worry. All firefighters have to pass rigorous physical agility testing in order to be hired. This test is getting more and more competitive for all, especially females, as the interest in the field of firefighting increases. I understand why you'd be worried, but I assure you that she has probably had to prove herself ten times over what her co-workers have had to, because she is a female. If your partner's safety with any of his co-workers is ever in question, he should report that to his immediate supervisor, as safety on the job is imperative - as if their job isn't risky enough just by definition!
It can be hard to get used to, especially because the fire service holds a unique and strong bond unlike any other working environment, but I'm sure you're going to be just fine, as will your family. The fact that you are already thinking of how you can support and understand your firefighter tells me that you're probably ahead of the game.
All in all, staying connected with your partner is probably the best thing you can do for you and your family when it comes to your new life in the fire service. Letting him decompress after a busy or especially tragic shift, letting him talk it out and listening are all things you can do to be there for him. In turn, it is important that you have support too, because sometimes the stress of being married to a firefighter can be hard on the support person. My family is understanding and flexible when it comes to Brett's work schedule. They are always there to help me and I don't know what we'd do without them. Because my grandfather was a Fire Chief, my dad understands...I'm pretty lucky.
I'm also good friends with the other wives and we know that we can count on one another whenever something happens. Thankfully, we've only been called upon to support each other for the births of babies - but we all know in the back of our minds, when we kiss our husbands goodbye before a shift, that he's going off to a dangerous job. So we cherish each moment, every day, and try to stay positive.
Best of luck to you! You're going to be a great "Fire Wife."