There was that time when we were out to dinner with another couple, and my husband got up and left before our appetizers had even arrived. Then there was the time when we skipped our Christmas party, the time he left five minutes before a summer picnic started at our home, and the time when he almost missed Thanksgiving. There was the time when I left in the middle of my dental cleaning so he could head off to a bomb threat. And, like clockwork, the time I was Christmas shopping and he got paged to a HazMat call. He was at a nearby store with our kids when the call came in. Moments later, he was dropping the kids off to me and I quickly ditched all the gifts from my cart so the surprise wouldn’t be ruined. And how could I forget the time we had two great tickets to a concert at Mohegan Sun but I ended up solo. The call had come in at 6am and he assured me he would have it “wrapped up” by lunchtime. Then, he promised he would certainly be done by early afternoon. By 4pm, he was going to skip dinner but assured me he would make it in time for the concert. I left his ticket on the kitchen counter and hoped he would meet me there. Needless to say, he never showed. And then there was the time when he couldn’t resist the temptation of an overtime shift that just happened to fall on my birthday or the October storm where he spent four days at work while I was alone with our two babies and no heat.
It seems like emergencies, house fires, HazMat calls, train derailments, dead bodies, natural disasters, and explosions only happen on the days I have things planned. It has happened so many times in the last ten years that I have even threatened to deduct an “administrative fee” to his overtime pay to account for the numerous times I have had to adjust my plans, reschedule events, beg a neighbor to watch our kids, or be woken up in the middle of the night. I’ll be honest—it’s a pain in the neck.
"Emergency service personnel cannot be replaced by a machine and calls cannot wait for another day—their skills are invaluable and are needed. Every. Single. Day."
To be fair, firefighters are not the only ones to have ever-changing schedules. Police officers, EMT’s, dispatchers, and members of the military are no strangers to this, too. Special events, lengthy calls, difficult extractions, and investigations can take on a life of their own and eat up those precious hours of free time. I was a high school guidance counselor for seven years and never once did a coworker call me in the middle of the night and ask me to rush to work. I have also never had to cancel weekend plans to change someone’s gym class, make recommendations for college, or mediate a disagreement between friends. With the exception of a few unexpected snow days, my schedule was very predictable, my hours were set, and my day ended when the bell rang at 2:44pm. There was never a lure of overtime shifts, I was never “forced in” to work or “held over.” If I couldn’t make it to work, the secretary would simply reschedule my appointments and meetings for another day. As police officers, EMT’s, firefighters, dispatchers and members of the military know, this is not how Public Safety jobs work. Not at all. Emergency service personnel cannot be replaced by a machine and calls cannot wait for another day—their skills are invaluable and are needed. Every. Single. Day. You will never call 911 and receive a recorded message that says, “We’re sorry, our office is closed today. Please leave a message and someone will get back to you shortly…” If one person calls out sick to work, their spot must be filled by someone that wasn’t already scheduled to work that day. A fire engine is not particularly helpful if there is only one firefighter sitting inside. And I would venture to guess that it would not go over well if you needed a police officer but were told to call back after 3pm when the next shift arrives.
My husband works 24 hour shifts so when he is at work, he’s really at work. He leaves before the day begins and doesn't get home until the next day is already underway. His “off” days that follow his shifts are always a crapshoot—I never know what kind of condition he will be in when he walks in the door. Occasionally, there are times when he has had a quiet night, but more often than not, he looks like a dishrag and heads straight for bed. Forget about that shopping trip or family fun day we had planned—he needs to lie down and catch up on all the sleep he missed the night before.
How did I get myself into this mess, anyway? Thinking back, when I first met my husband I was very intrigued to learn he was a firefighter. After all, what’s not to love about a handsome firefighter in uniform? Boy did I have a lot to learn. It didn't take long for me to catch on that his work is far more than just a job. It is a completely unique career that comes with its own lifestyle, its own “family,” traditions, and…sometimes an annoying schedule.
"I fell in love with a guy who is brave, has a take-charge attitude, and is a strong leader. Odds are good that I never would have struck up a conversation with him if he hadn’t possessed these qualities."
Although it is easy for me to recall all of the times our plans have been turned upside down and my husband has been pulled away--I really couldn't imagine our life any other way. He loves his job and it has become his identity and his passion. There is no doubt in my mind that he would be a miserable accountant, insurance agent, or engineer. He would lose his mind sitting behind a desk all day! I honestly think eight hours as a banker would take a far bigger toll on him than 24 hours as a firefighter. After all, it is the unpredictability, adventure, and the unknown that he thrives on. He loves the camaraderie with his “brothers and sisters” and being part of the firehouse. Every day is different and no two calls are alike. He is always being challenged and he has learned how to cope under pressure, take command of large-scale events, and how keep an entire community safe. I fell in love with a guy who is brave, has a take-charge attitude, and is a strong leader. Odds are good that I never would have struck up a conversation with him if he hadn’t possessed these qualities. Thankfully, we can usually laugh now when his phone rings and he is called off to yet another emergency…I quickly shuffle a few things around, drop back, and punt. I know he will be home when the call is done but it might not be for a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days. I get it and I admire his loyalty, his dedication, and his continued interest in the field he loves. He has a job that most people could never do and has more responsibility than most people would ever want. I'm pretty sure I would make a terrible firefighter—I don't function well on little sleep, I don't like an unpredictable schedule, and I would likely faint at the first sight of blood. Not to mention, I would most certainly panic in an emergency and my brain would completely freeze up. He, on the other hand, was made to be a firefighter...and there’s nothing more attractive than someone who loves what they do. So I guess I’ll take our crazy, rotating, and erratic schedule over the alternatives and thank my lucky stars I'm the wife of a firefighter.
"The funny thing about firemen is, night and day, they are always firemen." – Gregory Widen, Backdraft
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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 Deputy 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.
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