(I wrote and erased this article 17 times. At least. Because my heart wasn’t in the right place. Drama hurts everyone. This must be said. #firewife #bestrong )
If you clicked through to read this, you’ve probably been hurt by your own share of Fire Wife drama. Well let’s be fair and call it girl drama. Women can really hurt each other. My husband and the guys he hangs around always say that they can’t understand why women hurt each other so badly. Guys seem to just have a “word”, smack each other on the backside and then get on with the middle school bodily functions humor.
If you’re not here because you’ve been hurt by fire wife drama, my guess is that you have played some part in a fire wife drama and cannot wait to read what I’m going to write here. Sadly I’ve been a heavy recipient of fire wife drama ever since I started this blog almost 5 years ago. Over and over again.
(anything worth fighting for is going to face resistance)
Except, why does this even matter? Exactly.
Let me put this straight out there. If someone’s husband dies in the line of duty, is injured or faces a serious issue due to being a firefighter, it doesn’t matter what kind of drama you’ve kicked up. The fire family rallies around you.
It’s all good. I made that decision to put my stories out there for the public to read almost 5 years ago. There is almost nothing that hasn’t been said about me. Publicly. Online. It’s someone else’s variation of the truth and in their eyes it’s true. But this isn’t just about me. It’s about any fire wife who has ever been under attack in the fire family. (and for those who duck and hide and don’t get involved because the warfare is just ridiculous).
We’ve heard all the stories of issues in auxiliaries, flirting amongst spouses and accusations and / or affairs, or my favorite in the fire service “he / she is just trying to make money off of us.” Newsflash fire service: have you looked at your facebook feed? You are being marketed to from every direction by non-firefighters. I say we best start supporting and cheering on our own unless you’re good with all those dollars heading over seas.
(drama isn’t worth engaging in but it isn’t worth quitting over)
Let’s go back to the beginning.
When I started writing at FirefighterWife.com, every single firefighter that knew my husband was like “Dude, how can you let your wife start a community for our wives to bash us?” Of course that was never my intent but of course that’s their perception! Because in general isn’t that what guys think women do when they get together? And especially fire wives? And it’s hard to hide the fact that many fire wife auxiliaries dissolve because some women can’t get along running them and the department finally says enough. You’re done.
I mean, we know firefighters who won’t let their wives around the station or other fire families because they fear that kind of banter will kick up. Or they don’t trust their own wife to keep her mouth shut. Or they don’t want to subject her to the nasty mouths of other wives.
Speaking truth is something I’ve done here and taken heat for. In a way, I’m just another tough girl fire wife when I say things like this. And I really dislike that the fire life has hardened me somewhat to feel like I just need to ‘tell it like it is’. My heart is all in on strengthening these marriages. That’s the core purpose of why we have always been here. Sadly, fire wife drama has invaded our safe space of marriage strengthening often enough that I felt like it needed to be addressed. Sometimes that means you have to do the hard stuff. Like admit out loud that the “brotherhood and sisterhood” is often not a very nice ‘hood to be a part of.
I get it. This is a stressful life. Stressed out people are going to jab at each other occasionally. Perhaps this atmosphere contributes to the demise of marriages in the fire service? If it feels dramatic and unsafe to share amongst your fire family, certainly that’s not going to be the place you turn for marriage support.
(we are all stronger together. period.)
So fire wives have this reputation. I get it. I experienced it. I was the farthest thing from it when this all started. Because some of those other fire wives truly scared me off. But I was unknowingly stepping into a role as “the” firefighter wife as I blog and share on social (completely unprepared because who could ever predict I’d have a million people a month viewing our articles, videos and photos online????).
So I have nothing but respect and understanding for any fire wife who first looks at this site and is skeptical. For every fire wife who thinks, I don’t want to identify as a fire wife. The ones I know are snarky and bitey and edgy and well, just prickly, harsh and direct with their words. (and well, as I re-read this post I cringe seeing some snarkiness and harsh directness has rubbed off on me in this fire life now that I’m almost 15 years – our first big post was such a different tone. I feel the hard edges that come with the fire life creeping in and I resist it everyday. Ironic that what drove a wedge in our marriage then drove us to start this organization can still be present and almost drive us to give up. Read on. We don’t give up and we all need to be ever aware of this beast in the fire service.)
If you aren’t following quite yet, I want to share an example.
Recently a new fire wife in our community posted a photo of her fiance’s gear lying around her apartment drying after his training that morning. She was GIDDY to become a fire wife and felt like she was finally going to belong here. I approved the post and tried to soften the blow because I knew what was coming. A bunch of well meaning but strong speaking fire wives telling her to get that contaminated gear out of her house!
So I mentioned the concern hoping no one else would need to and we could simply gloat with her on finally getting to see him in his gear at home and how soon she’ll be his wife and how grateful they are he is in academy. Oh no. Our community of fire wives went at her full force about how the gear should never be in your home and then proceeded to debate amongst themselves whether the academy training fires have contaminates or not.
For crying out loud fire service! Go easy on the new girls please!
Instead of the “suck it up, we all have to deal with it” mentality or the “know it all this is how you HAVE to do it” attitude, how about “hey! we’ve all been there. Here are some ideas to help you through that season.”
I’m one of those girls who is just determined enough (and a bit of an idealist thinker) to feel like if we got enough people with the right attitude, we could really have an impact on culture. Can we create a fire wife environment that isn’t threatening but instead always supportive and encouraging?
Yes. We did. We have. We’re doing it. We’re going to keep doing. (God willing Facebook and the creek don’t rise!)
Here’s what I’ve learned. For every loud screaming complainer, rumor mill starter and know-it-all, there are 10 fold people who are just sitting there quietly in support and understanding. You’re my girls. You’re not just my girls. You’re THE girls. The ones who need to step up and welcome that new fire wife with gentle words.
Most of the time it’s not helpful to try to convince someone to try the gentler approach. It’s best demonstrated by example. Self-control. Actions that demonstrate we don’t hate you. We still love you as part of the fire family but we do not have to subject ourselves to your tirades and accusations.
Why do fire wives get so hardened and difficult?
If you’ve been around me long enough you know my favorite saying is “hurt people hurt people.” I don’t say that to disparage people who’ve had hurts in their life. It’s just a fact and helps us to understand the reasoning. I’ve been hurt in ways that I’ve never imagined just trying to lead this community and do something GOOD. The edginess you hear between the lines in this post is my hurt leaking out a little bit. (and why I re-wrote this 17 times and sat on it for an entire week!)
The longer I’m around the fire service (5 years on the inside of the industry now traveling the country and speaking with the “experts”), the more I see and understand some things about our hurting fire family.
It’s full of big hearted givers. Over-givers. People with the need to serve and care to such extreme that sometimes self-care and their own marriage and family suffer (pointing some fingers at myself and my husband here too.)
It’s also full of people who have seen so many horrific things in their life and willingly do so on little sleep, in terrible weather conditions, with a body full of adrenalin that literally, physically changes the chemical make up of our brains. This work changes people.
As a spouse standing alongside this, a lot of things happen. You get protective of your firefighter. You can get defensive when someone tries to speak ill of him. And you carry some of the burden of their fire career just because you walked alongside them and saw and heard so much. You can’t hear those things and not be affected. You also sacrificed many hours of your family life for him to be able to serve others.
Years and years of this can make us a bit cynical, bitter and hurt. And yes it leaks out. All families have some dysfunctions. This includes the fire family. And that my friends, is another name for fire wife drama.
So how do we step up as Fire Wives and avoid this drama?
Excuse me if this seems like a generalization but I’m attempting to categorize and help us see how we can better serve fire families together. This doesn’t include ALL fire wives. Just some examples of types of women we’ve seen as we serve this mission:
- Strong independent women who do not identify nor associate with the fire life. They probably don’t even “like” our facebook page and never buy a t-shirt emblazoned with the title #firewife. Life isn’t always easy but they’ve found their way and the fire service doesn’t dominate their lives.
- Tender hearted women who had a rough go the first couple of years and are wanting to give back to those fire families in need. These women all say “what a wonderful thing you are doing! I wish there was something like this when I was a new fire wife. How can I help?”
- Hurting women who are at the end of their rope with the fire service (and sometimes turn to us as their last resort). These women are angry at the fire service and their husbands therefore everything associated with the fire service becomes a target (I say this from a place of knowing. I was totally there early in our marriage.)
- Take charge fire wives. All in fire wives who carry that “I’ve been there and got the t-shirt” mentality and want to help and serve this mission but want to do it their own way for their own local department. (which is awesome but many of whom I’ve frustrated because we simply can’t be all things to all situations. (Side note to reflect on: We have a lot of “I want to do it my way.” in the fire service. Just ask your firefighters. It’s very common and evident by all the unique SOPs and trainings that happen at every local department instead of collaboration and support on a national level. The fire service is very locally centric. Some missions require us all to come together.)
All 4 of these types of women are showing the young, eager, proud, giddy, slightly frightened, still unaware of all the fire life will throw at them, new fire wives who are observing and learning from us. What message are you sending? (ouch)
Just reading those descriptions you can see where conflicts will enter. That’s often why I simplify to “hurt people hurt people”, myself included. If we’ve had past hurts, they’re going to come spilling out sometimes if we aren’t uber self-aware. Some specific examples:
- That locally focused fire wife who wants to grow a big supportive fire family with lots of events, is going to be uber frustrated with the independent woman who will never buy a fire wife t-shirt or come to a meeting. Their priorities are different. It’s that simple. But if we let our hurts leak out, we don’t see that and feel personally dishonored by each other’s actions.
- The hurt fire wife who is angry at the whole fire service is never going to want to even step foot into our Firefighter Wife booth at a trade show. We’ve seen it happen. We’ve seen firefighters drag their wife almost literally to our booth hoping to break through a chink in the armor so she can understand just a bit of the love he has for the fire life.
- Tender hearted women wanting to serve marriages sometimes have their tender little hearts stomped on and crushed when the local fire wife in charge, just trying to do the right thing, makes unrealistic demands on the young, new fire wives who are not yet hardened nor secure in their roles. They remember what it felt like when they were in their shoes.
- If you have two women in the same area who want to make something happen for fire families, chances are there will be some team / leadership drama at some point. Someone not pulling their load. Someone undermining someone’s idea. Someone always getting her way.
This is life. Plain and simple. And you may wonder why I’m dedicating so much writing to this topic. It’s because this problem has been exacerbated due to social media.
And I made a big mistake.
When I started blogging and running our Facebook page, Facebook was a relatively new thing. Oh look how fun this can be! Lots of people just like us and oh my goodness I can’t believe we have 10,000 followers! And then, 20, 30, 50, 80 and now over 100,000 followers. Some things we post get millions of views. And it’s not just the social media but our articles. The top 10 articles viewed on our site have tens of thousands of views each.
My eager little heart and business brain knew we could do so much good with this mission.
Just to be clear, I came full cycle in the fire life. First I was a type 3 woman – hurt and hating. I worked through that and became a type 1 woman. I’m good. Don’t need to identify as a fire wife. I truly initially started this blog as a fun place to demonstrate my business, marketing and technology skills for my clients. What rocked my boat was the outpouring of need that came to us and my tender heart overtook my business mind and I went all in as a type 2 fire wife. (To be fair, being a type 4, locally oriented wife, was never in the cards for me. My husband didn’t want that at all and in our metro career fire department, it’s not really a “thing”.)
So here we go on our merry little way blogging, still really unaware of what I was getting into. Because…..I hadn’t really encountered a ton of fire wives in my life until they all started meeting me and following me on social media. Because…. social media landscape has changed a lot in the past 5 years and keyboard warriors are a real thing. There’s no convincing them. Social media is not the best way to serve this mission. It’s a vehicle to connect but the best way will always be in person.
My mistake was not anticipating some of this. My idealistic self just wanted to build a loving, safe community. And we did. But how do you soften the blow of the hurts that come flying out in this life when it’s written in black and white text on a screen and makes someone’s heart sink?
I don’t know. Honestly I don’t.
I can list 72 ways I messed up and hurt someone’s feelings doing this. (I couldn’t say yes to an event they wanted because of a liability concern. I didn’t approve a post with a GoFundMe because we’ve been lied to scammed over those in our community. We decided to not share every single hurt / sick / dying firefighter or family member post because there are so many other places sharing those and we wanted to keep our focus on serving our marriages. I didn’t have a way to fairly promote everyone’s direct sales business and had to make hard decisions there. We delete self-promoting posts because they infect the integrity of our friendship in the community. I couldn’t help someone grow a local fire wife group well enough. We chose a different path than coming to their town for a $5000 expense to be in their state fire show. I couldn’t respond to the million messages I got fast enough while working a full time job and having 4 kids and a husband working crazy overtime. Just to name a few reasons why people have disliked me over the years of running this. It’s ok. I’m a leader and have to make tough calls. I just share that to try to demonstrate how I’ve been the recipient of some fire wife hurt and drama over the years.)
We’ve done our best with building up our online communities. We created long training guides videos and on going support for our group leaders but still the race of social media can make us weary. I’m constantly re-evaluating what is the right next thing to do to serve our fire family in our online communities……which by the way include “just” a few thousand people while in comparison, our articles are reaching up to 100,000 readers each……. just keeping that in perspective because that’s part of my mistake. In some ways, we let the voices of a few in some facebook groups lead us in the wrong direction while the masses are truly being served in great ways by our online marriage resources and wisely avoiding the propensity for drama that can happen in some facebook fire wife circles.
So we’re making some changes.
We’re not quitting. (no way should we let the drama win. ever.)
We’re making it better.
Right now we are going through a transition to streamline our nearly 80 private facebook groups and get back to our marriage focused mission in those communities. Personally, I am having to step back from so much hands on leading in those spaces as it has become too much for my family. Like many first responders, I over-gave of myself spending 30-40 hours / week of volunteer time (no pay) serving here. And I could see the weariness in our volunteer team as well. This is no way to serve a mission, especially one for marriage.
All the details with the changes to our Fire Wife Sisterhood communities are here. (If you are currently in our Facebook groups and have not yet upgraded your membership, this Thursday is the deadline. If you can’t do it until January, no problem. We’re just doing our Facebook group reset December 16th)
We understand if you feel that you cannot afford $5 / month to support this mission. But please understand your $5 is not just about joining a Facebook group. It’s about supporting this non-profit to continue to produce and deliver marriage strengthening resources for the fire service. That takes a whole lot of believers and givers to make it happen.
Coming in January, we are offering a free 30 day Fire Wife Academy course. It will be by application only and will allow us to continue to serve those fire marriages in need. Our Rescue My Marriage program is also still available (with 42 people on the waiting list……we are asking for this funding to help expand our resources there.)
And here’s another great new resource we are developing and can’t wait to share with you.
How to Start and Operate Your Own Fire Wife Facebook Group
Now, it comes with the warning of everything I just typed here. It’s really hard work. But we know that almost 5 years ago when we started this, many fire wife facebook groups popped up. Everyone wanted it. Everyone wants that community connection. Many of you messaged me for advice and support. Many of those groups have already closed or just aren’t being managed because it’s hard work. I know, sister. I know. But I also know that Facebook is a tool that everyone uses and there are many, many good things we can do with it, even despite the drama and the politics and those few weeks in early November many of us went into our caves and stayed off of it.
We believe that by sharing our experiences, our best practices for running these communities, we will best serve the mission to strengthen fire service marriages and families.
And for everyone out there who thinks I’m just charging $5 / month to increase my personal wealth, I hope you see that is not why we do this. Why would we show you how to run your own free group if this were the case? This is not about money (although as a non-profit it takes money to do everything we do…..and it takes many givers to make that happen whether they personally benefit or not. all those details are here once again.)
(yes, there’s a bit of personal hurt laced in that statement and this article. it’s clear and i won’t deny it. more tears were shed on my husband’s shoulder over awful things other fire wives have said about me and done to me than any other time in our life. you’re all darn lucky my husband hasn’t ripped this keyboard out of my hand and changed all my logins because he is pretty much over people hurting his wife’s feelings.)
But we’re strong. And together we’re stronger. And 24-7 COMMITMENT isn’t just a nice brand name. It’s how we live.
Just say no to fire wife drama.
Just say no to typing those words on that post and adding fuel to the fire.
Say yes to being a beacon of light and kindness and strength and honor and commitment to the fire family.
For some more reading
Latest posts by Lori Mercer - WifeOnFire (see all)
- Family First, FDIC, or Both? - April 20, 2018
- When Fire Life Meets Fire Wife Entrepreneurship: how to stay married - June 14, 2017
- Ways to Honor a Retired Fire Wife - March 24, 2017