Just the other night, my husband and I were getting dinner ready in the kitchen and the 5 o’clock news broadcast was starting. Our five year old boys were within earshot when the reporter recognized that, “…today is the one year anniversary of a basement fire in Boston that killed two firefighters.” Immediately, our eyes locked and I quickly shuffled into the living room to change the channel while my husband, a 17 year veteran of the fire service, tried to distract the kids. We both paused for a moment in anticipation of the twenty questions that would surely follow. I was worried that our children had heard too much and their little minds were going to race with all kinds of possibilities. I was hoping they didn’t connect the dots that being a firefighter is dangerous, even deadly, and their daddy was at risk. Our kids are old enough to pick up on our moods, read our facial expressions, and hear the uncertainty in our voices so I was just hoping we didn’t tip them off.
Don’t get me wrong: Our boys are well aware that their daddy is a firefighter. In fact, they have visited the fire station more than most people will in an entire lifetime. They have climbed on every piece of equipment, hit the lights and sirens, and donned all the gear. They like to find their daddy’s locker in the equipment room and see their pictures hanging inside the door. And yet, despite all of the trips to HQ, it dawned on me that they actually don’t really know what he does. See, every time they see their daddy at work he is at the fire station, relaxed, and hanging with his group—a dozen friendly faces that know them well. They watch them wash the trucks, restock supplies, fix equipment, write reports, and have dinner together. They see Daddy looking sharp in his uniform and they cover his badge with their fingerprints.
What they see at the station is pretty consistent with the books they have read, too. All of their stories depict happy firefighters together at the firehouse or rushing to get someone’s kitty out of a tree. I’m pretty sure when they think about their daddy at work, they remember our many fun visits and think of him at the station.
"They have no idea how his pulse thumps on the side of his head when he makes life-or-death decisions. They have never seen him crawl on his hands and knees into a burning building or heard his air pack beep to beg for more air. They haven’t seen the black soot stains on his pillowcase and they don’t smell the smoke ooze from his pores for days after a fire. They don’t notice the dark circles under his eyes when he walks in the door after his shift."
Despite their familiarity with the fire department, I’m pretty sure they have no concept of what his job entails, or the inherent risks. They can’t feel his heart race when the tones blare at 3am or even begin to imagine the tension, the stress, or the chaos of an incident. In fact, I’m fairly certain they wouldn’t even recognize their own father’s voice over the radio taking command of a scene. They have no idea how his pulse thumps on the side of his head when he makes life-or-death decisions. They have never seen him crawl on his hands and knees into a burning building or heard his air pack beep to beg for more air. They haven’t seen the black soot stains on his pillowcase and they don’t smell the smoke ooze from his pores for days after a fire. They don’t notice the dark circles under his eyes when he walks in the door after his shift. All they see is their daddy, the friendly firefighter, and all they want to know is if he will play ball with them the minute he walks in the door.
For now, ignorance is bliss. I’m glad that they don’t understand all the risks, sacrifices, and hazards associated with this job. I’m glad they don’t spend any time worrying about their daddy when he goes to work. They just know that he is a firefighter and he helps people when they need it. They aren’t ready to know about all the complexities of his job or the dangers involved. However, some day, when they are old enough to understand, I hope they can appreciate his hard work, long hours, and unwavering dedication to this profession. I hope they can recognize all the risks that he took to pursue a career that he loves and provide for his family. There are certainly easier ways to earn a buck but he chose the fire service. I want them to know that their birthday parties, hockey equipment, Christmas presents, and summer vacations were paid for one shift at a time.
My hope for our children is that someday they will find a career that is as fulfilling, rewarding, challenging, and exciting as the fire service has been for their daddy. So far, being a ninja, an astronaut, and a race car driver have topped the list. Looks like adventure runs in the family…
I feel compelled to write about the emergency services field because, truthfully; I find it fascinating. Admittedly, I wouldn’t cut it for even a day but I find it intriguing to watch from the sidelines. I’m always, always amazed at what I learn and the kind of person it takes to do this job. As a former high school guidance counselor, I always enjoyed learning the in’s and out’s of different jobs and finding careers that fit the unique personalities of my students. Despite my many years in education, numerous trips around the world, a masters degree and an advanced degree, I admittedly knew next to nothing about this field until I met my husband and it became my way of life. Thinking back, my only experience with the fire department was when I lived in a college dorm and drunk students would pull the fire alarm at 2am. Fortunately, I have never had a fire in my home and, although that’s a very good thing, it also means that I had zero understanding or appreciation of this important service. I couldn’t possibly begin to comprehend how the system works, how the shifts are run, how much it costs, or, frankly, how fortunate I am to even have these services available to me in the first place. I’m in awe of the thousands of people that are willing to give up their time and their own comforts to help someone else in need. They aren’t motivated by money, but rather by the love and dedication they have for this job.
Since writing this article, my husband has been promoted to a chief officer position and will no longer be fighting fires. Instead, he will likely be commanding a fire scene from the outside and supporting his department. A new role comes with new responsibilities, new challenges, and a new perspective. Bring on the next chapter!
If you enjoyed reading this piece, you may want to check out my other articles Always a Fireman and I Should Have Been a Firefighter.
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Loren Davine, M.Ed., C.A.G.S., is the Executive Director of NoFires, Inc. and a former high school guidance counselor. She is also a full-time mom and the wife of Assistant Fire Chief Jon Davine. Loren has been a member of Pioneer Valley Crossfit since 2008 and offers a unique perspective to our community on family, fitness, and fire safety for juvenile firesetters.
Loren can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org for questions about the NoFIRES program or to make a referral.
All other inquiries can be made to: email@example.com