Sometimes your heart is so full and an event is so amazing, there is no way the words that will come out can fully do justice to what just happened. But we need to share the life changing moments so we can reach others who may be in need of the same.
June 4, 2015 75 firefighters and their spouse arrived at The Resort at Glade Springs, West Virginia from all corners of the US – From Florida to NY to Texas to California and about 20 states in between. Most of the men were skeptics to say the least. Tell me why we are spending our vacation so you can meet all these “sisters” you’ve met online? Some were just in it for the golf. And most were taking MAJOR crap at the firehouse for attending something called “Flame Fest”. What the heck is that? A swingers conference? Or even being made fun of for attending “marriage counseling.”
Ok we agree. That name is not ideal. We picked it when we thought only the ladies want to get together. And it’s cute. We’re his “Flame” let’s get together and do some fun girl stuff. Worry no more. That name is HISTORY. (and I may need a special badge of honor for the about 150 men over the past 3 years who went in spite of the name and the harassing.)
But I can’t call it a conference or a retreat. Those words have a somewhat boring connotation and this weekend is very different. It’s more of “Marriage Experience”. We tried to say “Romantic Adventure” but even that scares away some of you guys. So let’s just call it a Marriage Weekend for now.
What is this Marriage Weekend all about?
In 3 bullets
- Reconnecting with your spouse and your marriage through fun activities
- Renewing your faith in the fire service through the community of amazing people who honor their marriage – through the good and the bad – and are still bad “you know what” firefighters as well
- Making lifelong friends in the fire service who get your life and to whom you will stay connected
That’s never what we thought would happen with this event. I mean, we were just blogging and then, all of THIS. 70,000+ Facebook fans. Over a thousand in our private communities. Many of the major speakers and partners in the fire service saying YES. I was just supposed to be a web designer and business consultant and we never could have dreamed and imagined such a life changing movement would happen here. But boy are we on board and enjoying the privilege of serving this mission and smiles and transformed marriages that are a result.
If I had to highlight my favorite parts of this years events it would be this
Marriage Recommitment Ceremonies
At least 60 couples participated in these ceremonies to re-commit their marriage. WOW! I honestly wondered if anyone would do this at all because it’s a rather big step and maybe something you want to keep private for your family. But, this is family. And it’s important. And you can re-commit your marriage every single day of the year and it wouldn’t be too much
Fire Wife “Touch A Truck”
So little kids do this all the time. But when has a Fire Wife ever had a chance to try things out in the fire world? And yes we really go to the next level getting dirty and using our girl power. It was a very personal challenge for some ladies and watching their husbands come alongside them for support and other fire wives as well……I get chills just writing this. One Fire Wife had a father as a firefighter and has been married for over 20 years and this was the FIRST TIME she’d ever put on gear. How awesome is that???
Watching Your Husband Follow His Dream
This year at Flame Fest a personal honor for me was watching my husband share what’s been on his heart since our FIRST DATE. 13 years later I get to stand alongside him as he delivers that message. (13 years people! Sometimes it takes that long!) He has such a drive to be a good man and to better the fire service all around him. The values he grew through his years in the Marine Corps are so strong and infuse nearly every aspect of his life. Except the fire service is falling short in some areas and he is impassioned to push for a change. The short version of his message this weekend was this – be the firefighter and husband you want everyone around you to be. Rise up and do the right thing, even when everything around you is trying to drag you down.
Next to commitment, the word community is my very favorite to describe everything about this event and our online groups. We weren’t made to do this alone. Marriage is hard on it’s own. The fire service is a tough profession. The schedules make it even more difficult to connect. The ultimate goal of 24-7 COMMITMENT is a culture change that values relationships on all levels and connects us as a community.
This is OUR TEAM. And we’re ALL IN.
You see, my words struggle to convey the impact of these events. Let me just move on to the words from YOUR fire service community. Yes YOUR COMMUNITY. Even if you weren’t there, you are part of the fire family and this applies to you too.
Let me preface this with I am a guy’s kind of guy. With that being said, this all started almost a year ago with my wife joining the “sisterhood”. I had misconceptions of their goals, purpose, and objectives. We’ll leave it at that. I wasn’t exactly elated about the trip before hand. I wasn’t sure what to expect, probably something along the lines of being shanghai’d into a husband beat down session with my final words of “Mayday Mayday Mayday” falling dead in the mountain air. (Even the department gives us a bailout rope.) The first thing that I noticed upon our arrival, was that this was the first time I had entered a banquet hall and immediately felt at ease. Normally, at my wife’s work dinners I feel like an alien as I meet strangers that recognize the fact that, “Oh you’re a fireman.” As we both know this is followed by the cliche’ questions and statements. (We all know what those are.) But I recognized this was immediately different. We all (husbands & wives) shared something in common, a life-style. The connections were effortless. Friday changed my whole perception and appreciation for the sisterhood and what Mrs. Lori Mercer’s vision is. We sat through hours of invaluable information and learning. The NFFF presented ideas and tools that I had no clue were available. Our friend Captain Willie Wines brought about a communication of how this job affects our very soul and how critical it is that we be each other’s keeper. (By the way Captain Wines is one of the bravest men I’ve ever met, having the courage to do what he did that morning.) Extending an EAP card is what Corporate America does, we’re better than that, we need to be involved! And that’s what I believe this whole organization is about, being involved in our marriage and eachother! I think the wive’s enjoyed taking their dusty, rustic firemen out, making them polish up, and dress up. Then they had the nerve to make them take their wives out dancing for the evening. Saturday presented a unique opportunity that many will never have. Wives were able to experience some of the hardships that we endure routinely. I heard many wives proclaim the new found respect they have for their husbands. Some of these had even been married to their firemen for years. In closing I would like to admit that I am onboard and a supporter of what the Mercers are doing. It’s pretty amazing! – Ryan McGiboney
To see this many people this passionate about their marriages outside of church is amazing. Bryan & Christine Swanson
Hotel and stay 400.00 +, friendships made and alone time to focus on commitment PRICELESS. Can’t wait for the next meet up. Jeff & Amanda Rosencrance Lancaster OH FF/ Paramedic
A couple that works together, fights together, commits together, and believes together is a couple that makes it together.
I cannot say enough about our group at firefighterwife.com. As this marks year two for us attending, I have a new found love, respect and dedication for my husband. Each year we learn to grow together to be stronger and better for eachother. I thank each and every one of the contributors for this event. When people with the same values, beliefs and goals get together and move mountains, anything is possible. I cannot wait for for the future of our group as we nurture and grow. This group is just what every couple in the fire service needs in their life. Thank you to everyone who helped make this event possible. It is because of people like you, that we are able to better our firefighters, our marriages and understand a new found appreciation for the fire service! – Christina Vlietstra
Flame Fest helped my wife and I reconnect and realize that we need to make time for us.
It also was a great place to connect with other couples which has built great friendships and a support system. Feel free to quote me and clean it up as I am not a writer and am now stuck on a 24 hour shift at work. – Scott & Kellie Nelson
Flame Fest 2015 was an opportunity to continue to build relationships with our Sisterhood and their firefighters. It has by far been the best of all three. From the speakers to the massage session to the amazing touch-a-truck event and the late night chats, every moment was spent strengthening our love and connection with one another. My husband had an opportunity to connect with brothers from all over the country and discuss how the Sisterhood has impacted our marriage in a positive way. We have never been stronger and continue to look forward to how we can support one another throughout our remaining years in the fire service. A huge thank you to all the local F.O.O.L.S. For their hard work at the Touch-a-Truck event. It was the best yet and I am still amazed at how hot the gear is and how hard the job is and we didn’t even touch on the emotional aspect of it.” – Heather Isaacs
Keep your marriage as full as your water tank, Jared Hubbell
The love and commitment of two can change the lives of many, Jamie Hubbell
“It was hard work. That gear is heavy and HOT!! I’ve got a whole new appreciation for what these men and women do every day, that’s for sure!” –Joy Spaulding
This photo says it all….”Taking a breather after a great Touch A Truck experience. Smiles on our faces show the Love grew stronger as each day passed. We almost felt like we were dating again.” – Jerry Meddock Jr.
The Power of Listening to Salty Firefighters Openly Share About Their Behavioral Health Challenges
Two things stand out from the weekend. As soon as I heard Willie say the words ‘I was in a very dark place’ I knew he’d been through a hell very similar to mine. He’s so very blessed to have a friend like you (Rhett) in his life. Also, we almost didn’t stay the extra day. I was right where I needed to be. No one has ever told me to let go of the guilt I’ve carried because Todd is a survivor. I needed to hear that from Julie, and more cancer support groups need to get the no guilt message out there. I don’t know if you want to use these or not, but feel free if you do. I know the purpose of the weekend was marriage, but there’s always a bigger plan at work than ours. – Felicia Wagoner
This whole exsperience has been a godsend to our relationship, having a community where Christine can vent and counsel alike, has been great and has reduced alot of stress that had snuck into our marriage and given her the solice to know its really not as bad as it seems. Likewise the friendships gained for both of us are priceless – Shawn Sebo
Had a great weekend of course, but my favorite quote went something like “oh yeah, let’s offer the cops some moonshine” after security dropped off more firewood. Made me laugh after you said it. – Dennis Devoe
What pure joy looks like. This weekend was the perfect time away for Matt and I. We were able to reconnect and also relax. We were able to laugh, and laugh hard. And we were able to work together to accomplish a task. I love this picture because it shows just how much fun we had doing the competition. I want to remember this forever. This moment. The feeling of victory, and my soul being recharged by his encouragement and love. #flamefest15
Upon initial glance at this picture, you may think “oh that’s just the 4 crazy dudes who got up early to workout.” But when I look closer, I see much more. Those two on the left have been in the profession for a long time. They’re seasoned, they love what they do, and they like to pass along that love for their career. They’ve chosen to be fit, so they can do their job well and also live longer and be the husbands and fathers that they were created to be. The two on the right are young dudes, early in their career, ready to advance. They’re both going to be in paramedic school this fall (at least that’s the plan), and are in the hard early season of their career. They’re staying fit not only for the best jobs, but to also be healthy and live to have a long career. But all four have chosen to get away for this weekend to support their marriages. They choose to value their marriage in their careers, no matter what stage they are in. And they encourage one another. I’ve heard each one of these guys listen to and support each other. They remind each other what’s really at stake and why they love what they do. They may have only just met, or known each other a long time. But that’s what Flame Fest is all about. Building relationships with other brothers to better serve the fire service, to be a positive influence, and to be the best husbands they can be. #flamefest15 – Megan Nadalet
This was my third FlameFest. And I was excited to attend this one as I was my first. Even more excited to hear they will not be called FlameFest anymore. I like to think I know a lot about a lot of stuff. We fireman tend to be that way. There is no 912…it’s us, then the Army. We are the jack of all trades. If I don’t know what to do, give me a couple minutes and I will probably solve the problem. At least good enough. In a marriage however, that is not usually the answer. Each time I go to these I am renewed and the fact that a good marriage takes hard work, dedication and most of all, attention. It’s not just a 24-7 commitment. For me, it’s a 24-48 commitment. I need to be the same “Dudley do right” leader I am at work, as I am at home. I sometimes forget that. I love these weekends for a lot of different reasons. Mostly the people…but importantly, the fact that my wife is paying attention and interested in me. Not just because I’m her husband. She’s interested in what I do, why I do it and how… This fascinates me, makes me look at her and wonder what I could do to be the man that she deserves. It makes me want to be a better husband. It always makes me pay attention more. Thank you for another great experience. – AJ Isaacs
“I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to reconnect with my husband, myself and my fire community. I learned so much about my relationship, our needs and our responsibilities. The information and friendships I gained are priceless and impressive for such a short time. I can’t say how fulfilled this weekend has made me or thank you quite enough.”
Kate Scott, Buffalo, NY
I am trying to figure out how to sum up all the amazing things about the Flamefest weekend! I loved getting to spend uninterrupted time with my spouse. The break from the pager was amazing. During Touch A Truck, I got to see an amazing side to my firefighter. I got to see his passion and dedication as he took the time to explain the techniques that I could use to do each obstacle. Then I got to see his pride after I completed the skills. If he took teaching me that seriously, I can only imagine his interactions with the newer firefighters at the station. I still keep going back to two quotes that sum some things up- Never leave your partner behind and My cup runneth over. Thanks for all you do for the firefighting community. Jennifer Bostic
Introducing the HONOR GUARD
We were not even back from the event for 12 hours when my husband Dan and I, in complete physical exhaustion and running on the sheer energy of the community, said we can’t let this end. He was getting text messaged non-stop from the guys at the event. But we knew not everyone had exchanged phone numbers and that a text message with 75 guys would quickly spiral out of control. That’s when we knew it was time. The men needed their own private, safe, online community, like the ladies have in the Fire Wife Sisterhood. That’s when the HONOR GUARD was born on June 8, 2015.
At every marriage weekend we’ve held (Atlanta 2013, Chicago 2014 and now West Virginia 2015) the ladies walk away amazed at the new connections, friendships and understanding of the culture of this community that our men experience. For us women, this is even better than reconnecting our marriages. Because we’ve seen our men discouraged, burnt out, frustrated, cynical and ready to give up on the fire service. Instead, they have found true brothers who honor the courage, commitment, integrity, discipline and other noble qualities it takes to be a top notch firefighter as well as the best husband possible. The salty seasoned firefighters come alongside the young brothers and encourage them. I’m tearing up as I write this. It’s that powerful.
This statement from one firefighter hesitant to even attend the event sums it up:
“The automatic connection between brothers that I have never met before was touching.” Matthew Spaulding
The 24-7 COMMITMENT Honor Guard is a free community for men who are devoted to firefighting and their marriage.
You can join at this link and experience what we are describing here but in an online community. Until next year…..when we’d love to see you at one of our marriage weekends.
2016 Marriage Weekends
This event needs to reach more people. We hear you asking and we totally agree. Here are the FOUR planned locations for 2016. The dates have been announced and registration will open as soon as July ($300 non-refundable deposit will be required so plan accordingly! Exact event pricing to be announced when registration opens.) And here’s your challenge…..we need at least 60 couples at each weekend to make this happen! So start planning!
California May 13-15
(Exact location TBD)
Estes Park, CO May 20 – 22
YMCA of the Rockies
Black Mountain, NC June 10-12
YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly
Texas June 24-26
(Exact location TBD)
Our goal is to reach as many couples as possible with these marriage weekends. It’s so powerful we are ready to step out and step it up and go even bigger.
That said, none of this is possible without a seriously impressive list of people who step up and believe in this cause and provide their support
- QALO and the crew who lead the way with their bold message – Commitment is courageous
- American Addiction Center – a safe place to call when life gets to be too much
- Black Diamond Boots
- The Fire Critic, Rhett Fleitz who supported us by organizing the entire Saturday “Touch a Truck” activity and via his new venture, Engine Company Apparel
- Mount Vernon Nazerene University – offering online Public Safety Administration degrees and $1000 scholarships to First Responders
- Chief Bobby Halton, editor of Fire Engineering and speaker at this years event
- Captain Willie Wines of Wooden Ladders and Iron Firemen who bravely shared his story of depression and PTSD in a very personal and powerful way with the audience. He also played a huge role in supporting the “Touch a Truck” event.
- Appalachian FOOLS who worked their tails off supporting our “Touch a Truck” event
- Kristin Ponzi, assisted by her husband Joe, with Essence Body Work who taught us all how to massage our spouse
- National Fallen Firefighters Foundation – John Proels and Mark Young and Everyone Goes Home Ambassador Rick Best
- Larry Manasco and his wife Chandra of 555 Fitness who led the couples work outs during the weekend
- Lauren Levin of GoodEventCo.com our event planner, coordinator and the other half of my brain during the event
- Andrew Stevens, our emcee
- Steve Hensley our entertainment for Saturday evening
- Adam Schierberg who provided amazing photography throughout the event (see the full gallery here)
And soooooooooooooooo many volunteers from our Fire Wife Sisterhood who created personal gifts, centerpieces, helped assist during the event and kept our online communities engaged while we were away. Ladies….if I didn’t personally thank you, I beg forgiveness and wish only for more minutes in my day.