Truths About The Fire Life We Are Afraid To Admit

by | Everyday

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Truth is my word for 2016.   It’s too easy to live in false hope, influenced by social media likes, half truths from “friends” and hidden truths because we aren’t courageous enough to share our real feelings with ourselves or others.

And truths challenge us to rise up and live to a higher standard.   Some of these truths will sting a little.  How does that go…..sorry not sorry?  We didn’t start this organization to build up a large social media following of fire service groupies who drool and “like” over every cute and tearjerking meme about firefighters.  To be truthful (I may start every sentence that way for awhile), I’m really over the nasty comments we receive sometimes on our public Facebook page even on those cute memes.  Hurt people hurt people and we want to be compassionate but there’s only so much we can do with a negative nelly and a facebook post.  We’re here to change lives.   We started this out of our own hurts and beautiful healing through our fire life journey and wanting to help other fire families reach that place of strength and build encouraging community that truthfully, is missing in many places in the fire service.

If you are one of the lucky few who has a great local fire family support network…..we are so happy for you!   Clearly you have some good leaders and people there making good things happen.  Keep it up!  You can still hang out here because your positive influence can be a blessing to so many.

The sad truth, based on the requests and emails we get here, is that kind of “brotherhood” isn’t as common as everyone makes it out to be.   Based on our personal experiences of running this non-profit organization, we’ve been hurt by the “brotherhood” as well.   There are some real (insert words I can’t say in front of my children who do read these posts) firefighters and families out there who aren’t all courageous, brotherhood, saving lives and looking sexy in bunker gear for your wife.    I see a lot of hurt, bitterness, anger and apathy in the fire service, which of course impacts the families as well.

Ouch.   This all hurts.   It’d be easy to get bitter and cynical ourselves and give up.  Call me an idealist (it’s the truth) but our ultimate vision is to change the culture of the fire service.  Not to remove the grit and dirt and toughness at all but to enhance it with emotional situational awareness and tighter bonds of teamwork and family.  And a lot of that hope comes from the amazing people we’ve met through 24-7 COMMITMENT.  The honest, kind, loving, kick-butt firefighters who care and give us the encouragement and support we need to stay on track with this mission and not let the ugliness bring us down.

Our hope is that this truth sets some of you free.  For some of you to say YES!  Finally we’re going to stop putting all firefighters on pedestals and realize there are some serious issues that need addressed.   Some of you are going to resist and want to defend and argue back, because maybe it hits a little close to home.  Either way, keep reading.

Ultimately these truths I have found the courage to share are meant to show us the light to the path that is better.   The truth will set you free.  Brace yourself for the truth.  You CAN handle it.

TRUTH #1:  You can’t escape or hide from the reality of life and death in the fire life.  Don’t say it doesn’t affect you.

Whether you are the first responder or your family member is one, chances are you see and / or discuss life and death almost daily.   The car accident in which the young lady was lucky to walk away with only a broken arm.  The fit 42 year old man who coded this morning at the gym and didn’t make it.  The infant snuffed out unexplainably by SIDS.  The list goes on.

And you can’t say this doesn’t affect you.  If you think that way you’ve just lost perspective with how the rest of the world lives their days.  There are first responders who have found a better way to deal with the tragedy and trauma but you can’t say it doesn’t affect you.   Confronting death in any form changes who you are to your core.

Add to that……high run volumes.  Irregular sleep.  Working in the stress of impoverished communities ridden with drugs and violence.   Yes the truth is that this is what you signed up to do.   The other truth is that there are limits to the super human expectations being placed on some fire departments.   I know this isn’t every department but I personally see this first hand because it is the norm where my husband works (and I don’t ever even bring up his department because it wouldn’t be fair……but this year I realized we’ve learned a lot through 24-7 COMMITMENT and I would be remiss to not share this as a solid example.)  They will hit 8000 runs in 2015 with an engine and 2 medics.  9 guys on a shift.   Way too many of them needing sleep aids and other health fixes to get through everyday life in between shifts.   I don’t just want these guys to love their careers and do them well, I want them to come through them without burn out, frustration and move into a happy and healthy retirement.   And I know their chief and officers feel the same but a common struggle is that run volume has edged up slowly over the past few years.  It’s not until you step back and get perspective, you realize what kind of game you are in.   Truth is, I’m worried about these kind of changes for our firefighters and the history with the fire department to be too slow to recognize the problems it can cause.

Your truth challenge:   Reach out to that firefighter who isn’t being truthful with themselves about how it’s affecting them.  We share a lot of resources here on behavioral health and here on PTSD so educate yourself and reach out in person.   That’s what truly makes a difference.  And wives….educate yourself and learn together how to help your firefighter through these moments.   TalkSpace is a resource to consider helping you through these topics in a more anonymous manner.


TRUTH #2:  There are way too many 3X-4X-5X firefighters.

If we lost 25,000 facebook likes because of this comment it wouldn’t bother me.   Because the heart of firefighting and supporting a firefighter is to stay fit and healthy and knowledgable about the job.  To respect authority, work as a team and do what you said you would do when you signed up for the job.  And as family members, to support them in that commitment.

Here is an ouchy truth.   On our website and at fire service shows, we sell out of 2X and 3X shirts faster than any other.   Yes a 2x or 3x of 6+ feet and muscles is a firefighter I want saving my children.   But a 3X+ mushy gut is not the one I want standing next to my husband when he falls through the floor of a burning building (AGAIN!).   And spouses, this goes for you too.   Obesity is the number one leading cause of disease and death.  How are you going to celebrate your 50 year wedding anniversary together if you aren’t healthy enough to do so?   (Get into Fit Fire Wife if you need a safe place to be honest with women who are shedding pounds like crazy!)

Get fit.  Train for the job.  And do it as a team.  Surround yourself with people with healthy habits for diet and exercise.   Even if this means bringing your own food to the station (not popular amongst the brotherhood talk but what true brother doesn’t want to encourage a brother to be healthier?)   This has been a fabulous discussion topic in the Honor Guard and Fire Wife Sisterhood by the way.

Our favorite partners for fitness in the fire service include:

UPDATE to this section:

This “truth” really brought out more personal hurt than we ever intended.  Actually, it’s one of the benefits of writing down hard things because you can really get to the crux of where we are all hurting in life.  Not to poke it further with hot sticks (which I realize this is what it felt like to some) but to truly know what’s going on in someone’s heart.    I don’t take this lightly at all.  It does hurt my heart to see how many women (wives of firefighters) felt personally attacked by this statement.  Please, please, please read this again.   This was not a generalized statement about obesity nor meant to judge anyone.  You be your own judge of how you feel about your fitness.

The focus here is firefighters unable to perform the duties of the job due to their fitness level, and therefore potentially putting their own crews in danger.   And yes, as many of you pointed out, that could be from being too skinny and weak and not just from being overweight.   My point about the 3x / 4x is based purely on our t-shirt sales.  Which is a fact.  We sell way more 2x – 4x sizes than any other size which could be an indicator of the problem.    I’m not here to tell you personally if you are overweight and if that’s what it felt like, you missed the point.   But if something here stirred in you, then please reflect on that.   Preventing LODDs includes your own personal health being taken care of – for your own sake and for your ability to aid your crew.

And to the wives who became upset about this, it was never intended to be about you, except to encourage you to support a healthy lifestyle alongside your husband so you can live many happy, healthy years together.   I now understand better than ever that anything written in this space is so easily taken personally when weight loss has been a longstanding personal struggle.   I wish I could make that emotional pain go away.   A healthy, fit lifestyle has always been and will continue to be encouraged and promoted here at 24-7 COMMITMENT.  If that is challenging for you and you aren’t ready for that step of the journey yet, no worries.  Focus on the mental and relational health factors.   The positive of this kick in the behind (which is a method that works on some and not others) is that MANY wives in our community did use this as a motivator to kick start their fitness again.   Over 20 women registered for Fit Fire Wife in one evening after this was posted.   High fives ladies.   I’m super proud of you for taking that step.  And I also still love those of you who aren’t ready.  I love you right where you are.  Period.

Next, I wrote “truth” in quotes here because some readers felt it to be opinion and largely mis-representing the fire service.  Anything written is opinion unless you believe and trust the author.   That’s always your call and I hope you all are using critical thinking skills on everything you read.  I encourage you to read the writings of our fitness partners to decide for yourself on this point.  And consider that you may not have the full perspective of the fire service but only your own back yard to judge from.

And finally, to those who feel I overstepped my bounds with these statements and was not encouraging, that’s a really tough one.  I am sincerely sorry you have such hurt in your life and my words poked into that harshly.    With a goal to honor and strengthen our marriages and families, sometimes we all need to hear some hard things.  For what it’s worth, I did check this topic with some of our advisors who struggle with weight loss and they were fully in support of us posting this.   I know I hear things I don’t like to hear and it hurts but I process and take the right parts and know it will make me better.   We will continue to step into hard places like we always have here.  And we won’t always agree.  And that’s life.  And I don’t know a writer out there who expects their entire audience to agree with everything they write.  That’s my job and I will take it with my big girl panties on.

Focus on the good.  Read Truth Part 2 and be reminded that’s what we’re here for.  To be the ones focused on doing good.

Your truth challenge:  We maybe just called someone fat. (update:  ouch.  I know.  I thought it to be funny and instead some found it hurtful.  But I’ll stand by my “mistake” and leave it here for the record.)  Think of it as motivation to be your best.  Admit it.  Find an accountability partner / program and make my words a lie by the end of this year.   Or let’s let our friend Paul Combs’ talented truth cartoon convict you:


TRUTH #3  “T-shirt and decal” firefighters and families don’t represent the honor, integrity and respect required of a first responder

It’s not about the t-shirt.   Firefighting is not a brand or a label.  It’s a job (paid or not).  One that people happen to be extra passionate about and we’re totally cool with wearing your passion and your heart right out there on your sleeve.   What isn’t cool is when you’re out there all geared up to show everyone you’re a firefighter and you’re…..significantly overweight, carrying an attitude of disrespect, arguing, drinking and simply not showing up in an honorable way.   If you’re going to wear the brand, walk the walk.  This goes for wives and families too.   Our families are supported by the funds of your city / county / township government.  The people you interact with help pay your first responder salary.   Think about how you will carry yourself around them to leave the positive impression next time there is an important fire related election.

Here’s another truth you may not be aware of about firefighter t-shirt sales.   Your lust and addiction to firefighter t-shirts has resulted in you being marketed to by non-american facebook pages who find you so easy to target that they are using firefighters as an example of a niche market to target with facebook ads.   If you were one who clicked through to get the “free bracelet pay only shipping” and didn’t receive it, I’m so sorry.  It wasn’t us.   There are scammers on social media and they are targeting the t-shirt hungry fire service.   It’s why I insist on talking in person to any organization we partner with.  Do the homework.   If it’s showing up in your facebook feed as a sponsored ad and doesn’t link to any legitimate website except a “buy here” page, it might not be legit.  Read the about me, FAQs and how to contact them info before making a purchase.

Here’s our truth.  We resisted being in the t-shirt business because we didn’t like that market.   We didn’t want to be about t-shirts.  And thank goodness we were able to find a way to make everyone happy.  We do have t-shirts but it’s not what we are about.  We are about community and are now proud to see the 24-7 COMMITMENT community support our message on their apparel and decals.   And if a t-shirt is the first way someone shows their love and commitment to their spouse and family, then we’re all about that.   That’s WAY better than, oh, something like “wanna check out my hose?”  Blech.

Your truth challenge:  Every time you put on a fire related apparel (or drive your car with those stickers) take a deep breath and remember who you are representing.   And of course the easiest way to be sure you are supporting a good cause with your firefighter shirt purchase is to shop at our store 😉  We only deliver high quality products with respectful designs.

Day 6 of Shopping SQ (1)

TRUTH #4  A lot of chiefs and officers are not equipped to deal with the politics and business negotiations that will keep their department staffed, budgeted and performing best in class.

Go with me for a minute here.  My career experience is 22 years of international business, moving up in to the executive ranks.   I’ve seen stellar leadership and I’ve seen horrific leadership and everything in between.   I don’t know it all but t’s a passion of mine to study leadership and business strategy and I bring a very different perspective here.

Upon entering this venture as a non-profit, I was initially intimidated by the fire service officers and chiefs.  These are some super talented, strong willed and driven individuals.    As I’ve gotten to interact and know so many of them across the country, I’ve learned these are (primarily) men with the same big hearts that all of our firefighters have and who totally want to do the right thing.  But they are in a tough spot.   They are in some cases are outmatched in negotiation and business acumen with their city management.   This is again an evolution in the fire service that may sneak up and surprise us.   HIPAA laws, tax scenarios, reliance on grant funding, changes in the balance of power amongst local, state and federal governments and simply the emotional intelligence to navigate all the non-fire service personalities in public office, HR and legal departments are the challenges facing them.   Executive Fire Officer programs are working hard on this topic but as they are taught by now retired former chiefs and officers, are they getting the right message?   Should there be more teaching and influence from MBA programs?  Perhaps cross over between military and police training programs?  ‘

This issue becomes apparent only in it’s symptoms.  The crews and officers see “obvious” choices that would be made for staffing and equipment purchases that can’t get through the process.  It’s so fraught with politics and business negotiation that a chief can’t even explain why something can’t get through.

One thing I always tell my fire wives who are struggling with a decision over a promotion or a hiring or a forced shift change, etc, is to not use your normal logic when trying to understand how things work in the fire service.   There are simply too many variables to be understood from anywhere outside the chief’s office.   All we can do is trust the good hearts and hope that they’re giving it a good wise fight for the best outcome.

Your truth challenge:    Firstly, realize the position your chief and officers are in before complaining or bad mouthing.  And then educate yourselves.   Get outside the fire service for our learning.  If you are a firefighter, an officer, or run a firefighter related business, don’t just watch the fire service.   To become a best in class, we need to look outside ourselves and apply new techniques, perspectives and learnings.

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Had enough truth for one day?

Yeah, me too.  Remember after the hard work of uncovering truths, there is hope!  It still feels a bit icky to unpack that and take it in.   So we’re going to stop here and pause until Truths Part 2, where we will also share some of the most amazingly positive and encouraging truths about the fire life.

In the meantime, take on a truth challenge.  Please!  We get better together.   Everyone doing their part.   Join us in our free communities to chat up these topics on a deeper level.  I imagine we’ve unpacked some heated dialogue here 😉

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On a mission to be and inspire us all to be better humans, to strengthen fire families & marriages, to nurture and encourage fire wives, do "good business" in all areas of my life and of course, love on my 4 kids.

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  1. Joe Zydel

    Hi Lori,

    You hit the nail on the head with your points here. Heart attacks kill more firefighters than fires do. I heard you’re taking a lot of flak over your thoughts. I urge you to stand by them and push people to make changes. There is no room for excuses. I’m 50. 32 years in Fire/EMS. In 2015 I ran a marathon, 2 halfs, and 4 5Ks while completing 2 college degrees and working 2 jobs. Keep fighting.


    • Lori Mercer - WifeOnFire

      Joe – Your support means so much! Thank you for standing for this very important message!


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