Sunday, August 26, 2012

Life with my flame

Right now it is a quiet Sunday morning. Kids are rolling out of bed and hubby was off early this morning working an extra shift at the firehouse for a co-worker. For all of us parents, our lives - how we live, what our lives revolve around, our lifestyles - are dictated in part by what we do for a living. I'm married to a firefighter, which means our life is much different than a family where the head of the household might be a salesman or a stockbroker or an engineer or a teacher.

Our activities revolve around my husband's unusual schedule or we're forced to do things on our own with out him. Today is the first soccer game for one of our boys. Most dads have Sundays off and will be there to watch the game. My husband will be on duty. And if he manages to be in the area of the park and is able to take in part of it (it's a home game that's in town unlike the upcoming away games), people see him stopping there in uniform for a few minutes to see his son and complaints roll in that he is on the clock and should be working, not taking a little time to see his son at his soccer game. It has happened. Many times. I have had people say to my face, "They just sit around at the firehouse. They aren't really working." I usually respond with something along the lines of "No, they aren't working every minute of a 24 hour shift, but when they have to work they definitely earn it. Like tonight when you're in bed at 3 a.m. and he is out on an ambulance call."

Take this weekend for example. He came home yesterday exhausted after his 24 hour shift (he gets off at 6 a.m.) and said that their shift had 14 calls and that he had slept only 3 hours the night before. Yet, knowing that we had plans to go to the water park as a family that afternoon, he took a quick catnap (about 45-minutes) then drove us to a water park 45-minutes away so we could have some fun for a few hours. Last night as we gathered to watch a family movie together, he barely got half way though and he was asleep. Then he was up  at 5 a.m. this morning to work another shift. So, I'm here at home with the kids and heading off alone to a soccer game with my 10-year-old this afternoon. I spent a little time this morning online reading blogs and Facebook pages by other wives of firefighters. Firefighters have a brotherhood. We wives kind of have this sisterhood thing going. Even if you're reading something written by a complete stranger on the other side of the country, if she's a wife of a firefighter, she understand the life like no one else can.

So, it made me think back to this column I wrote for our local paper last Christmas. It kind of sums up our life - the craziness of it, the fear, the pride, the relief, the sacrifice. It originally ran here  as my Mom Moments column in the Times.

Every day he comes home is a gift

The presents have been unwrapped and stockings emptied. Another Christmas has passed and each year the material things mean less and the really important things are cherished more - the family and friends that you get to spend precious time with.
This year my kids spent Christmas without their father because he was at work at the firehouse with the others on his shift, ready to respond to any emergency that may arise on the holiday. It's just something that comes along with the job and that we've learned to adjust to.
I couldn't be prouder of my husband's career choice as a professional firefighter and paramedic. While it's a job that carries lots of risks, a lot of days are on the routine side (if you could call it that), with no fires to put out and patients to shuttle to the hospital for only minor ailments. So, for the families of firefighters, you can put your mind at ease, knowing that the dangers are not present every moment of every day. But then again, they can occur at any moment of any day.
You watch movies like "Backdraft" and "Ladder 49" and can kind of dismiss it as Hollywood drama, but in the back of your mind, you realize that there could be a day that someone you know could be in that position, falling through a burning roof or at the bottom of the collapse.
With the bleak state of the economy, the state government has put blame on public pensions, including those for firefighters. I've been reading more on why the system is set up the way it is - how the fire service aims to retire firefighters in their fifties rather than sixties as it can be done most effectively by a young workforce; and how it takes such a physical and mental toll on them over the years; and how firefighters are ineligible for social security that the general population receives. In a disaster, they are heroes, but when they collect a pension after 20-plus years of hard work, they become villains to taxpayers.
I've also been looking at statistics that I knew existed, but were easier to ignore, like the increased risks of cancer. With certain types of cancers, a firefighter has as much as a 102 percent higher risk than the general population of being diagnosed. Firefighters are also at higher risk for cardiac issues and other respiratory diseases.
There are more dangers to a firefighter than being in a fire. There are long-term effects that often rob them of the retirement that they've worked long and hard for. Many times they don't make it until retirement or don't last very long after they do. They do their work in all kinds of weather, on busy roadways, in the homes of strangers and in myriad situations that most would not want to be in. When people don't know who to call, they call the fire department.
Then there's the whole other side to it - the scars that you don't see. It affects you emotionally when you see a child dying in front of you despite your best efforts to save them or when you have to pick up the pieces of a teenager who ended his life by stepping in front of a train. Some have more of these moments in their careers than others, but they never forget them.
Firefighting isn't a job. It's a way of life for those who choose it. It is a brotherhood. No one can fully understand it, not even those they come home to.
And following the Christmas shift - as well as every other one - when he comes safely through the door, that's the best gift of all.

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