October is a month with lots of attention on the Fire Service. Fire Safety Week brings school visits and open houses. And the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend touches all our hearts. So this month we are going to journey through helpful tips for firefighters and their family to THRIVE in this life on fire. We will highlight topics pertaining to the life of spouses and families and their firefighters and how to embrace them and make the most of your life as a family.
No matter the profession, I believe in people being “whole” in life. When I go into my corporate job, I don’t disguise the fact that I have 4 children (some people do!). And my kids know that I go to meetings, work on computers and fly in airplanes for my job. An integrated world keeps you whole and sane and not constantly in a tension of “which hat am I wearing”. Firefighting takes this to an entirely new level. Families are welcome to visit at the stations. Kids (and spouses and parents) like to brag about their firefighters out of sheer pride. And like many professions, firefighters bring their work home. For them it’s in their exhaustion and stories and routines and passion for the job. Oh yes, and in the t-shirts! When they love it, it’s tough to not talk about it a lot….and live it 24/7.
That’s why it’s called the “fire life”. Somehow firefighting has a way of weaving into so many aspects of our lives. Case in point. My husband finished a 48 this morning (Wednesday). 24 on his full time department followed immediately by 24 on his part time where they’ve been running low on staff lately. Of course he got home after I had already left for the office and the kids were on the bus. Around 4 PM, everyone (except the high schooler) converged in the kitchen for 10 minutes of quick conversation before we piled in the van to run the soccer carpool and then split ways for same time soccer and hockey games. 2 hours later we’re all back in the van and then finally home and back in that same kitchen. Only it’s now nearly 8 pm. I whip up a quick batch of tacos and set out some paper plates for everyone to serve themselves buffet style. We’re soaking in family time at home since he’s back on shift tomorrow, home on Friday (which I’ve successfully blocked out a couple hour midday date for us!) and then Friday evening it’s divide and conquer again. The girls are off for an out of state soccer tournament while the boys manage sports on the home turf.
Then, just as we were rejoicing the the iPhone wasn’t broken and simply needed some extra charge time, it rang with an unknown number. Which he unfortunately chose to answer. Yep. Overtime. They called him in for the night. I pretended not to really hear the conversation hoping it wasn’t really going down. But someone had to go home sick. And if it was my husband who wasn’t feeling well, or my child was very sick and I needed my husband home, then I’d for sure want another firefighter to return the favor with a gracious heart.
He made the rounds saying goodbye. All went well except for baby girl, who was already in a melt down about using ink, not pencil, on her homework and upset about the ugly scratch mark she couldn’t erase. Realizing that Daddy would be gone for 2 more nights sent her into fits of sobs that brought tears to both of our eyes. I tried to deflect with the homework and tell her it’s ok. Lots of people make mistakes and have to cross them off. But no go. She climbed up in my lap sobbing about Daddy leaving. I consoled her with the chance to sleep in bed with me tonight while he quietly snuck out the front door.
It wasn’t until after he left that I realized it would make 7 straight nights that we would not be sleeping together. And all day long I was so looking forward to just a short neck and scalp massage. Just to be touched by someone who wanted to love on me, not another child needing me for another task. Guess that will have to wait.
You might think this is a sad, sad story but it’s not. This isn’t a complaint. It’s my life. My heart is full. We are blessed with his job (and mine). Our life is very busy with 4 active kids but thank the Lord they are healthy enough to play all these sports and it’s fun to enjoy them together as a family. And in 4 short years, we’re only left with 3 at home. Then 2. Then 1. and 10 years go by in the blink of an eye. Quick tacos are still delicious and require less clean up. And facetime keeps us all closer than ever.
Throughout these posts we’re going to leave you with some tips related to Fire Life for that day. Today my tips are about unplanned overtime:
- Don’t get mad at your firefighter. It’s not like they planned for it to happen. Adding anger to the annoyance and frustration doesn’t help anything.
- Discuss and have a plan together for how you will handle unplanned OT. Is there an opportunity to decline? In what circumstances would you? Can you agree to button up the task at hand before making a mad dash out the door? (i.e. tucking a child into bed, washing a couple dishes, checking the online account)
- Think about how the kids perceive it and consider ways to make the exit transition easier on them.
- Don’t lie. Just take the OT. It’s the right thing to do. Most of the time it’s legit and someone sincerely needs help. (And I’m sorry for those of you at stations where the brotherhood isn’t so thick and OT is manipulated in either direction. You know what they say about taking the high road.)
- When the OT happens while your firefighter is already at the station, be sure to agree on how you will discuss taking it or not (when given that option). Will you call and discuss? Are there certain absolute no’s? What if you can’t be reached? Is there a list of “good days to take OT” that you could create?
- Look at the positives – the reward of the extra OT money. Thank goodness for this extra cash that will help us cover the cost of those new tires we need on the car.
- Stay positive for your firefighter. It’s not easy on them either to have to suck it up and take on an extra shift but to do so when their family is home crying and upset about it is even worse. Control what you can – yourself and your emotions.
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