The Firefighter Wife volunteers posed for a quick group photo in their booth at Firehouse World in San Diego last month.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Cynthia Mills
Wow…Firehouse World. What a week!
“What?” some of you might ask. “You’re only a firefighter’s wife. What would Firehouse World matter to you?”
But, you would be so wrong to think like this. There were actually many, many wives, girlfriends, and even fiancées there with their firefighters. And of course, there were also plenty of female firefighters too, some of whom are also fire wives.
Firehouse World not only welcomed all of the ladies, but they went the extra mile by inviting us to enjoy ourselves there too. Honestly! They didn’t just say, “Come to us almighty firefighters! And I guess bring your wives and girlfriends if you must…”
No way. They actually had classes for us, a booth for us, and vendors who had items that women would like! Trust me, when I say, attending Firehouse World with my husband was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. We didn’t arrive until Tuesday evening, but it was just enough time to get checked into our hotel and make it over to the U.S.S. Midway for Fire Service Appreciation Night. Since I’m a history nerd, I toured the whole ship with my FF. We walked along while I read signs and he named planes and what war they fought in, what they were used for, and where we might have ever seen them before. We listened, captivated by San Diego’s very own Pipes and Drums. We met new people, welcomed old friends with new hugs, and finally met Peter Matthews in person. Well, my husband met him, then introduced us on the flight deck. As we walked back to our hotel that night, laughing with new friends, we watched four firemen in the back of a tour bike pretend like they were part of the Jamaican bobsled team. Two jumped out to push the bike through an intersection. Never one to leave someone stranded, our new fire chief friend from Idaho helped launch them safely through, to the ruckus cheers of the group.
Wednesday morning had us up bright and early to help set up the Firefighter Wife booth in the exhibit hall. For obvious reasons, this was my favorite hang-out place the entire conference. I’ve been a part of this group for a couple years now, and met hundreds of women across the country who all understand and “get” this life. It takes a special soul to be kindhearted and patient enough, yet tough enough too, to live the life of a firefighter’s wife. In this group, we’re all different, but we all get it. We help each other struggle through the tough times, share in the victories, and encourage each other in life and in our marriages. Again, I got the chance to meet a ton of new friends here; women who, up until then, I had only known online. I hugged ladies from Arizona, California, Idaho, Ohio, and even one from Alaska!
My firefighter left for classes, but returned regularly to fill me in on all he’d learned and comment on how many people were stopping by our booth. While we did have plenty of ladies stop by, there were a ton of men stopping by too! Many firefighters came up to us and said, “My wife wanted to come when she saw about your group in the program, but she couldn’t make it. What information can I take back for her?” Others said, “I’ve never heard about your group before, but my wife would love it!” Then there were chiefs, or former chiefs, who stopped by too. One, in particular, will always stand out in my mind. He told me, “Before I retired I wanted to find out if marriage was really a problem in the fire service. I polled the guys at my little department and this is what I found out. Out of 30 firefighters, we had 35 divorces in our department. And only 25 of them had ever been married.” Wow! This blew me away! Those numbers are horrible, but they are the perfect example of exactly why an organization like Firehouse needs to continue to encourage and support strengthening firefighting marriages. This is exactly why an organization like Firefighter Wife needs to be able to reach firefighters and their wives and let them know, “Hey, it’s tough sometimes, but others have made it through and so can you. Let us help you see how…”
This is such a powerful message.
Wednesday afternoon, Lori Mercer, Chief Fire Wife at Firefighterwife.com, held two classes for any fire wives and firefighters who wanted to attend. "Connecting with Fire Families Builds a Better Firefighter" was her first class, followed by "Becoming a Wife on Fire: Motivation and Lessons for the Family and Spouses of Firefighters." These classes were wonderful and well-attended by women and firefighters alike.
There are about a hundred other experiences that I could ramble on about, but I’ll just give you the bullet point version:
- It must be a fire academy requirement that all firefighters learn the line, “You don’t want me to get hurt in a fire because you didn’t let me buy _______.” (Fill in the blank with any coveted fire product.) I’m convinced of this because while it’s simply a running joke between my FF and me, a random FF we’ve never met before stepped beside us in the Exhibit Hall and said this, on my FF’s behalf, as we stood there debating the merits of getting the handcrafted leather tool belt he wanted. Nice.
- A nice gentleman named John Hayes seems to look like someone everyone knows, yet no one has ever met him before. Now I can’t ever say this again though. Ha!
- A local Fire Wife meet-up will quickly outgrow the space provided when so many women hear that there are others out there who love this life, just like they do.
- Water-filled, glass orbs were an early form of fire extinguishers. These fire bombs are still on display in places like the Firehouse Museum at the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company in San Diego. There was a ton of history there and I loved every second of it!
- On the final shuttle ride back to the convention center from the museum night, I realized we must have recently edged into the “older” category of firefighter & wife, because everyone on that shuttle loved the song Paradise City and all of us remembered when it was new. My younger friends at the department here ask, “What song? I’ve never heard of it.” Ugh!
- The Firehouse team does an amazing job of busting their rears to always keep us up to date on the cutting edge news, resources, trends, and information. They make it look so easy online, but they’re one of the hardest working and most down-to-earth teams I’ve ever met.
- The fire family I so dearly love in our own small department is just a small piece of the much larger fire family that spans the country, and possibly the world.
Hanging out at Firehouse was just like hanging out with people I’ve known personally for decades. We speak the same language. We face the same challenges. We get the same jokes. We can all sit around a dinner table and discuss gory topics without losing our appetite. We’ve all rescheduled holidays, willingly listened to bagpipe music, and mourned losses as a group. We’re all part of the same firefighting family puzzle. We just need things like Firehouse World to bring us all together to see it.
Find more on my blog: www.firewifelife.com.