Life of a Fire Wife

Old Timer

A few years ago he kids and I celebrated Thanksgiving at the fire station today along with a few other fire families.  It was a small crowd.  One other  family with kids, several girlfriends, and the parents of one firefighter.

Dinner got off to a predictably late start since the two engine crews were still running calls, but we always expect that.  What nobody could anticipate though, is the transmission on the medic engine failing about 150 yards away from the station on the way to a medical aid.  So that meant limping the engine back to the station, and going to pick up another engine.

The food was great, as usual, and the crew that cooked was very considerate in trying to accommodate my dietary quirks.  Since I don’t eat meat they left the sausage out of some stuffing.  Of course they didn’t even realize that by using chicken broth in it they were negating their efforts.  :)

During dinner there was the requisite walk-in medical aid, and then all hell broke loose in the city and then both engines were out on calls at the same time. (Predictably, just about the time most families in town are finishing up their own dinners.)

While I sat in the corner reading my book (I always go the these things prepared.) and watching the kids play video games I listened to the seasonal firefighter’s girlfriends sit at the table and talk about getting used to “this crazy schedule.”  I couldn’t help but giggle quietly.  I felt a little like an old military veteran listening to the new recruits.  “I panic every time his Mom calls me while he’s on a fire.”  “He never wants to do anything after he gets off his shift.”  “I worry the minute he leaves for work.”

Welcome to the fire service, girls.  Either get used to it FAST, or don’t marry him!  It’ s not going to get any better, either.  There were no “big fires” to speak of this year, so no long fire assignments.  Every year is different and you can never predict it.  You have to learn to roll with it.  Or not.



The Emotional Switch

You would think it would be really convenient to have a paramedic for a husband, right? Sometimes it is. Not always…

Johnny has this really nifty internal switch in the emotions department that I used to find really annoying because he usually has it in the “off” position. I understand completely that it helps him deal with the stress of job. That’s fine. It’s a survival thing and I get that. Sometimes, though, when I think he should be showing more emotion he doesn’t and it drives me nuts. Sometimes I’d really like him to get a little teary-eyed or emotional over something. You know – like when we got married. Stuff like that. But he doesn’t. Not always.

Other times, when I would expect that he’s completely under control, HE’S NOT! Those are the times that really shock me. I just don’t expect it at all.

When I met Johnny I had two kids from my first marriage. I’d done the whole natural childbirth thing and totally knew what to expect. He was a paramedic and had delivered a few babies himself. Plus he’d taken Anatomy and Physiology so he knew how everything worked. I figured we had enough experience so I didn’t bother to take any childbirth classes when were pregnant with our first child together. And with his schedule I probably would have ended up going alone anyway, right?

When the day came, though, that I went into labor with our first child it was a much different experience than I had anticipated. I really thought I was going to go through the whole labor and delivery drug-free – I’d done it before so I could certainly do it again, right? But a few hours into labor when the pain started getting pretty rough Johnny started “excusing himself” from the room and he’d be gone for quite a while. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. At first I was just mad because he was abandoning me when I needed him most. I’d stand and put my arms around his neck and kind of hang on him through a few contractions (really the only thing I found to be very comfortable) and then he’d be gone again.

Johnny, you see, has a very temperamental digestive tract. When he’s stressed that’s where it shows up first – his poor tummy. And by the time I figured this out, he had gone through the majority of a BOX of Imodium AD…. and I was picturing him passed out on the floor from stress and dehydration as our son came into the world. But what in the heck could I do about it? Like pre-eclampsia, the only cure for this condition was delivering the baby. Or was it?

Pain – or more precisely seeing ME in pain is what was doing this to him. So remove the pain, right?


Sure, enough, as soon as the epidural took affect he was fine. Right as rain. Eager to tackle anything that came his way. The relief on his face is a look I’ll never forget.

Johnny once intubated a 4 month old baby boy and saved its’ life. He started an IV on a 3 year old snake bite victim that was so solid they used it at the hospital to deliver the anti-venom. He has retrieved electrocuted bodies, still smoldering, from trees. He has saved lives, declared an end to others, and seen horrific things during his career.

But the thing that takes him over the edge of control is seeing someone he loves in pain.

Last night our youngest daughter cut her thumb pretty badly and it was obvious she needed several stitches. I was at a late meeting at work when I was called by our oldest daughter, briefed on what had happened, and asked to meet them at the local ER.

I arrived at the hospital before them since it’s not far from my office. When Johnny walked through the door carrying our crying baby girl in his arms and saw me already standing in line to check her in I saw it again.

That look. That relief.

Firefighters, Paramedics, EMS, Police Officers………they aren’t heroes. Whether they show it or not, they have the same capacity for emotional pain as anyone else. The ones who have the ability to flip that internal emotional switch into the off position are the ones that survive the longest in their profession.

They’re HUMANS. Humans who need permission to not always be strong. Humans who need to be taken care of too, sometimes.

That’s where I come in. The Fire Wife. That’s my identity. I’m not a Firefighter’s Wife – he doesn’t possess me. I am not an object. I’m a member of OUR TEAM.

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