I used to be the one on a Hotshot Crew. There was a time when my spouse and I were both on the road. Now I am the one that stays home and my guy is out there. There has not been a single year since 1995 that he hasn’t gotten a thousand hours of overtime and he spends at minimum of 150 days a year on the road. One benefit that we enjoy, that some of you out there might not have, is I understand what he is talking about because I did it. That can be rectified; read on. Through ten years, we have run the gamut of emotions and worked through a ton of problems. What I can say is that the advent of cell phones has made keeping a strong relationship so much easier. If you are a firefighter and you don’t have a cell phone, go out and buy one. For those that stay at home, buy your fire guy or girl one for their birthday or Christmas. They may not have cell service for long periods of time on specific assignments but usually they can find cell coverage at some location on most incidents. Nevada, amazingly enough, has killer cell coverage.
Some other tips and comments for those in the same situations….
It is almost a joke now in my circle of firefighter friends because I have said it so many times. Real simple. There are three rules to a good relationship.
#1 Don’t fight on the phone
#2 Don’t fight on the phone
#3 Don’t fight on the phone
This isnâ€™t advice just for your relationship. If you fight on the phone, YOU could be risking their life. You have to remember that your firefighter is doing a dangerous job. Do you really want them thinking about the fight you had last night over the dog chewing the couch and the toilet that backed up all over the bathroom floor instead of concentrating on the job at hand? If you feel you canâ€™t keep the conversation from deteriorating into a fight, bite your tongue and end the call gently; donâ€™t ever, ever hang up on them, they may not call back. You have the choice of self control too.
When your firefighter calls, you need to remember that he/she has just spent several days or weeks working 16 hour days, living and sleeping in the dirt, playing up the hill/down the hill and dealing with hazardous situations, cranky co-workers and line overhead that they may not agree with. Firefighters constructing fireline burn about 6000 calories a shift–all manual labor. If there is no cell coverage, your firefighter will have to stand in line waiting for the pay phone (if the incident is large enough to have them). They will have a limited amount of time to talk to you out of courtesy for those who are waiting in line behind them. In addition, the time they take to call you is cutting into their sleep time. Your firefighter might sound jazzed, up on adrenaline when he/she calls but more than likely, that is all that is keeping them going; they are probably dead tired. They will dominate the conversation, telling you about their exploits. You need to listen and try not to let your fears for their safety overwhelm you. They are using you to bounce ideas off, tell you things that went wrong and talk about the incredible sights they witnessed. If the first words out of their mouth aren’t “I love and miss you” it doesn’t mean that they don’t; after all, they called YOU, not someone else, right? It is just that their experiences are foremost in their minds. Your role needs to be support and understanding. Sometimes all you really need to do is listen, they will carry the entire conversation. Just make sure you get that last “I love you” in before they have to hang up. And remember, they may feel uncomfortable reciprocating the â€œI love youâ€ if there are a bunch of guys hanging around waiting for the phone. Firefighters are a pretty macho bunch, itâ€™s just a fact of life.
Some things that will help you manage your feelings:
Educate yourself about fireline terminology, safety measures, tactics and strategies. Read the Fireline Handbook, take the time to read the LCES training, learn about the Standards for Survival. All that information is probably buried in your closet unless your firefighter keeps it at work. If they keep it at work, ask them to bring it home with them the next time they roll into town. Your firefighter is absolutely your best source of information. Ask questions this winter. Talk, in depth, about how they actually do the job on the fireline. By educating yourself, it will also alleviate a lot of unfounded fears that may lurk in your heart. People always fear the unknown. Create common ground by being interested. It will benefit you too.
While they are gone, donâ€™t let the small things get you down. Yes, you are home alone, you are lonely and there is no one to share the daily problems and joys with. Deal with the problems, put off the big projects you canâ€™t accomplish on your own until winter, and save the joys to share when you can see them. When you talk to your firefighter on the phone or when they come home, emphasize the positive aspects of home life. One of the definitions of â€œhomeâ€ is â€œa social unit formed by a family living together; a congenial environmentâ€. Itâ€™s a good thing to remember even though you may feel like it is a place for your firefighter to do nothing but sleep and do mountains of smelly laundry.
And lastly, have faith in your firefighter. Not only to come home safely but to stay true to you. Without faith in your relationship you can weaken it so much with jealousy and second guessing that it wonâ€™t withstand the fire season. And if they arenâ€™t true to you during the season, there is plenty of time THIS FALL to break their kneecaps.
I know it was pretty long-winded but I hope it helps some of you out there…..