Mr. Lori AKA my husband wrote this. Ok, he totally hates that nickname Mr. Lori but we hold no ill-will towards whoever coined it because we truly can’t remember 🙂 Like any good wife, I did not nag for this post and just waited for it to develop in his own timing (and that is a bold-faced lie. I nagged a little!) With no further ado, I present one man’s perspective on Flame Fest 2014 ~ Lori @wifeonfire
We’ve been home for a little while now and I’ve been meaning to write this just about every day since we returned from Chicago. Well, actually I think Lori has been meaning for me to write this since we returned from Chicago. I don’t normally write on a “deadline” or anything that resembles one. I have a hang up with “over planned” writing that sounds scripted and forced. I have found through the years that the best stuff comes out of my head and down on paper (or the iPad in this instance) when it does just that, comes out of my head and lands on the paper. Sometimes things kind of splatter so I’m sorry in advance if any of this gets on your clothes.
Flamefest 14 ( hashtag !) was another amazing weekend. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. There are no words to describe the spirit, the friendship, and the community that the ladies ( and now a lot more gentleman apparently) demonstrate at this event. I was, as I was last year, blown away at the connections people were making at seemingly every turn. I was witness to so many great moments of friendship, laughter and openness that to try and put them all down here would make for a novel.
From the first akward moments as folks were arriving in the hotel lobby and people were getting to meet eachother for the first time (in person), or in many of the husbands cases our first interactions at all, the genuine feeling of inclusiveness was there.
Thursday evening as we all gathered in the for the social I was amazed at how easily people connected and slipped into conversations filled with laughter and comfort. That isn’t always the case in settings such as that and speaks volumes to the character of the group.
As I looked around that room in a moment I had to myself, I was overjoyed to see firefighters from all over the country and from different types of departments from volunteer to career setting differences aside and looking each other in the eye and getting to know one another. That evenings “inclusiveness” was culminated for me when I tried to sneak out on the patio to text our 12 year old daughter Maya before she headed to bed back in Columbus. In a matter of minutes I was being joined by people I’d met literally hours ago and a circle of chairs formed and great conversation flowed. I was so proud of every person there as each time another couple would notice us sitting out there talking and walk out, there was no hesitation, someone was up, scooting their chair to make room or literally trotting over to another table to find them a chair to grow the circle. It was the epitome of the “Brotherhood” in my eyes. That circle grew so large that I couldnt hear the conversations from the other side of it, just the way it should have been. And that circle didnt stay that big all night as couples excused themselves to turn in for the evening, but at 1:15 as I retreated to find Lori typing away at her notes for the morning in our room, the fact that I knew there were still folks down there in the circle sharing each others friendship made me fall asleep with a smile on my face.
With Friday brought the “Meat and Potatoes” of the conference as we all headed to the conference center and listened to the speakers. OK, I guess that included me as Lori and I did our best to share our “why” behind FirefighterWife.com and a little more of our personal story to help folks there loosen up and know that they arent alone in their struggles. I had an absolutely great time. The entire group of folks were kind and open and had great feedback toward all the speakers content. If you put aside the A/V glitches that we guys were faced with at seemingly every turn things really couldnt have gone better. David Soler of Firefightertoolbox.com, Retired Batallion Chief John Salka from the FDNY and Jeff Dill from Firefighter Behaivioral Health all presented with passion and profesionalism their particular messages.
That evening, after a far too short break to get to my room and get changed, (duly noted for next year by the way) it was off to the ball. Now I’m not a “ball” attending type of guy. I can make it happen and behave myself for a specified period of time, but if you ask me honestly to rate where attending a formal function falls in my life? Probably somewhere between a root canal visit at the dentist and crawling into an attic scuttle full of blown in 1950’s era insulation. But just like the evening before, this group of people showed me through camaraderie and friendship just how much of a neanderthal I am in my thoughts and feelings toward these functions. Dinner, awesome. Conversation, awesome. Atmosphere, awesome. You get where I’m going for how this night was for me. And again, the evening ending with a group of folks gathered outside by the lake into the wee hours of the morning getting to know each other better.
Saturday was a day that, as we woke to the rain and local weather forcast I must admit, I was a wee bit less than enthusiastic about. I mean we had 100 people to try and organize, get to the train station and turn loose in midtown Chicago. We didn’t know how many vehicles we had to accomplish this with and it was pouring outside. Buckets! I slept as late as I dared. (Meaning Lori said to me, “get up, I’m heading down to the lobby now and I need you down there with me in 15 minutes” as she headed out the hotel room door). A quick fresh application of deodarant and a clean t-shirt and pair of underwear and I was on my way. There are no words to describe the magic that happened that morning. In less than 20 minutes we went from a disorganized mob of blurry eyed out of towners who had no idea how they were getting to the train station, to groups, in cars and gone. Huge Kudos to Christine and Chad Vlietstra who organized that chaos and kept us all from wandering into traffic. It may seem like overkill, and I know I have made this point here already. The reason this could happen was because of the character of the people involved. That same scenario presented to a group of people without a genuine desire to be together and we could have had a real mess on our hands. I stood almost stunned as the last vehicle pulled away.
And then there was Saturday evening. My memory is fuzzy (as Capt. Morgan is a poor leader of men), but all in all, things were care free and fun. I was once again reminded of the joy I get from the community that my chosen career path places me in. I danced with my wife (she blogged about it here), I danced FOR my wife, and everyone else in the place much to their horror I’m sure. I raised a glass with firefighters from all over the country and their brides and toasted friendship and family. I made every attempt to look as many people as I could in the eye and thank them for supporting Lori and her mission and for being part of a group of people that are much more than “an online group”. If I got to you I meant it, if not I sincerely apologize and mean it with regards to you as well. This is an amazing thing you guys are doing and you should all be very proud. I can’t wait to hopefully see as many of you as possible again.
FF Dan Mercer