Fire Families

There's no doubt that the sacrifice made by firefighters' families, or fire families, is substantial. The absence of their firefighter is keenly felt, yet over time, many fire families establish their own rituals and rhythms around the complex schedule of their firefighter. A unique bond develops within a fire family, and they also hold strong connections with fellow fire families, sharing the same schedule, attending similar events, and facing challenges that they can all identify with. The community within the fire department, composed of numerous families, is resilient, forged by the shared experiences only firefighters and their families can comprehend.

Community is crucial to the human experience. Throughout history, it has been proven time and time again that we thrive together. From small to large scale, we need others for support, encouragement, mentorship, and fellowship. Isolation fuels negative cycles, depression, and hinders growth. Perhaps the most fervent example of community is that of firefighters and their families.

Through one fire wife’s perspective, she says, “There was definitely an adjustment period after getting married, and especially once we had kids. The shift schedule, the last-minute overtime, the toll that it can take on his mental health, and the importance of keeping active and openly communicating. I would say it took a solid few years until everyone got in the groove. It hurts a little less in some ways, hurts a little more in others, every time my husband leaves for a shift or gets called in for overtime. Now when he is gone for 24-48 hours, we go into 'shift mode' and have our own way of doing things while the big guy is at work. When he’s back, we go back into 'complete family mode.' We know what to do now, but he is still missed. I think now my biggest concern is making sure he knows he's an integral part of the family. Sometimes he can be gone so much that he feels it's hard to fit back in when he's home. It's hard to see him feel this way, but that's why I try to take the kids to the station to see him, or bring the crew dessert, or text him photos of what we're up to all day so he feels like he's in the loop. Once he's home he is #1 dad and also helps me take a break by doing fun things with the kids. With my husband’s unique schedule, yes, he is gone a lot, but that also allows us to spend more time together, not just weekends. In a way, I prefer this schedule compared to a nine-to-five. Our kids are still young, but I used to worry that they would feel a certain way when their dad wasn’t able to come to events, or missed holidays because of work. The kids don't know any other childhood though, they know dad goes to work and sleeps there, he helps people when they’re in trouble, and we visit him every shift we can. Their hero really is their dad and I love that my kids are growing up within the firefighter community. Honestly, I feel very fortunate."

When asked what advice she would give to young fire families, she said, “Make a point to do things together, even the little stuff. Keep an open ear to your partner, but know that there are some things they won't want to talk about, or you won't be the person they want to talk about it with. Remember to keep that connection and open communication. Life can get us caught up in the day-to-day hustle, but you have to remember what's important, and that's the family you've made together."

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We also asked a now-adult child of a firefighter what it was like growing up; they had this to say, “Really, it was a special upbringing. We were able to spend entire summers together since my mom was a teacher and had summers off. My dad would swap shifts and take vacation days then so we could travel all summer. My mom was also amazing at having all three of us all the time, managing the house, working full-time, and being a supportive partner to my dad. When Dad was on shift, or had to leave quickly if he was called in, we never felt like he just abandoned us. We knew what he was doing, and we always thought his job was so cool. We were always so proud of him, and being able to visit him at the station helped instill that in us. He worked two hours away so every visit was special. Now I also work in public safety and we have a mutual understanding of what each other has experienced. If I come home from a tough shift, I can just sit next to him and he knows his presence is enough. It has definitely deepened our relationship."

Perhaps the most prominent characteristic of families in firefighting is their support. Whether it's a birth, a death, a surgery, or someone going through a hard time, you will see other families rallying to help. In fact, many departments have a non-profit organization for this reason. Firefighter Benevolent Associations are created by members of a department to raise funds for fellow firefighters, their families, and members of the community in times of need. They also host events in their areas to foster community and stewardship, furthering their reach beyond just the department. An organization like this embodies the heart of those who comprise the fire department: not just the firefighters in the station but their families at home.

This small glimpse into fire families exemplifies the resilience, sacrifice, and unwavering support that define the firefighting community. Through challenges and triumphs, these families have forged deep bonds, creating their own unique rhythms amidst the demanding nature of firefighting. Their stories not only highlight the strength of familial relationships but also underscore the importance of community, empathy, and open communication in navigating the complexities of life's responsibilities. As we honor the dedication of firefighters and their families, let us also recognize and appreciate the profound impact they have on shaping a culture of unity, compassion, and service within our communities. 

What has your experience been? Is there any advice you would give to young families starting out in the fire service? We’d love to hear from you.

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