1. #26
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    Nov 2005


    Share this with your wife. I think both of you will find it very entertaining.
    Firefighting: A Wifeís Perspective

    From the beginning of our relationship, I knew this would be different. We could only see each other on red and green days, and I could only call him at work after 9am or before 9pm, and never at mealtime. No one warned me what it would be like to date a firefighter.

    After I met his family, I was introduced to his firefighter family- the 3 crewmembers he spent 10 24-hour shifts with each month. They knew everything about me. I came to realize that I would have to be willing to share him with his coworkers, both on and off duty.

    It didnít take long for me to learn the peculiarities of fire department etiquette. When I visited the fire station for the first time, I had to bring a pie. In fact, whenever a firefighter does something for the first time, whether itís buying a house, being mentioned in the news, or having a child, he or she must bring ice cream for the crew.

    On birthdays, firefighters bring in their own cake. When they get promoted or reassigned to a new station, they cook their own farewell meal for their coworkers. It became evident to me that firefighters are more comfortable serving others than being served.

    When we became more serious in our relationship and eventually married, the church and reception hall were filled with firefighters and their families. The happiness of one was celebrated joyously with the rest (of course, after all the jokes of bringing running shoes for the groom). The birth of children, purchase of a home, or completion of a college degree is all celebrated as if it were close family members achieving these successes.

    I could see that firefighters are bonded in a special way. They spend 24 hours at a time together, which is much more time than most family members spend with each other. They work together for a single purpose, whether itís to save a life, put out the flames in a burning building, or educate children in fire safety. They must be willing to risk their lives for each other without hesitation.

    Firefighters take care of each other. If one is going through a divorce, he or she is counseled, supported, and encouraged. If another is having difficulties with a rebellious teenager, many others can offer advice from their own experiences as parents. When a firefighter is trying to promote, he or she may carefully choose the next station assignment knowing that a certain crewmember will help with oral interviews or fire simulator problems.

    When I first started dating my husband, I couldnít believe that a 23 year old could own a home. He later explained that when he first started on the fire department, an older firefighter sat down with him and educated him on the importance of saving for and purchasing a home. He also taught him about deferred compensation, and how important it is to maximize his contributions from the very beginning. Thanks to the wisdom and caring of this older firefighter, and the magic of compounded interest for investments, my husband and I both maximized our retirement savings (his deferred comp, my 401K), and we will retire comfortably.

    My husband has carried on this tradition of helping new recruits by educating them on financial investments and deferred compensation. Firefighters look out for each other in every way.

    Everything in the fire service is done in a big way. The Long Beach Fire Department has the biggest grill I have ever seen. It is built on wheels and is towed behind a truck. I would have thought it was ridiculous if I hadnít seen that every spot on the grill was being used. This grill is used for graduation ceremonies, department picnics, fundraisers, and all types of community events. Only a firefighter could have dreamed up that grill!

    When a firefighter cooks, he or she cooks in a big way. It doesnít seem to matter if it is a large station with several engine companies and rigs, or a station with a single engine company and a crew of four. There are always at least two refrigerators at the station to hold all the leftovers. When my husband is at home, he carries on the tradition and cooks enough to feed an army. I also have two refrigerators in my home.

    Maybe firefighters are just trained to think in a big way. But along with big ladders and big trucks come big responsibilities.

    When I was dating my future husband, I was a student in the physical therapy program at California State University, Long Beach. I was taking anatomy and physiology classes, and interested in the medical side of his job. He was still a paramedic at that time, and had not yet promoted to captain. He suggested that I ride along with him to see what he did. The television show ER didnít hold a candle to the real life drama I witnessed.

    It was pretty slow (he thought), and I accompanied him on calls responding to SOB (shortness of breath) and a drug overdose. We were just sitting down to an elaborate Mexican dinner, when another call came in. It was reported as a man down, gunshots heard. The crew responded immediately to the call.

    When the paramedic rig and the fire engine arrived, there was a large, angry crowd gathered. The police had not yet arrived, so it was not known whether the assailant was still present in the crowd or had left. The victim was not even visible through the crowd. The captain, who always looks out for his crew, ensured that the police arrived to control the crowd and clear the area. The victim was a teenage boy with a gunshot wound to the chest.

    He was hooked up to an EKG machine, given an IV for fluid and other medications, and the bleeding controlled as well as possible in the field. They kept in constant communication with doctors in the ER, so the medical staff could give further instructions, and was fully prepared for him when he arrived. Every crewmember was needed, whether it was to take vital signs, control bleeding, administer medication, fetch equipment, use the radio, or interview family members. I was in awe of how efficiently this team could work, with a critical victim in the field, poor lighting, a large, noisy crowd, and possibly an assailant who did not want this victim to survive.

    The victim was rapidly transported to the ER, where the paramedic team was integrated into the hospitalís response, and they worked together to try to save this boyís life. Within minutes his chest was cracked open, and there was the largest pool of blood I could imagine beneath the gurney. Even with CPR, repeated administration of cardiac medications, defibrillation, IV fluids, intubation, and other intensive efforts, they could not save his life. The bullet had nicked his aorta and he had lost too much blood.

    His family was in the waiting room. His mother became hysterical, and his brother vowed revenge for this gang-related shooting. The crew returned to the station to finish dinner and prepare for the next call. This experience will remain vivid in my memory for the rest of my life. For the crew, it was just another day on the job. They felt compassion for the victim and his family, but they could not be overwhelmed by it, or they would not be able to continue working.

    Along with the intensity of responding to critical emergencies, and the danger of entering burning buildings, there can be unexpected dangers. In 1992, after the verdict in the Rodney King beating was announced, Los Angeles County went crazy. There was rioting throughout the streets. People were burning down buildings, beating total strangers, and looting stores. It was out of control.

    People were so angry that they were shooting at anyone in authority, including firefighters. As if the job were not dangerous enough! There was one incident that my husband only told me about years later, and it was only after a coworker casually referred to it. A call came into the station that a strip mall was on fire. Due to reports of firefighters being shot at and threatened by crowds, they were supposed to wait for the police to show up and accompany them to the scene. The police were busy elsewhere, as you can imagine, so the fire department responded anyway. Just as they were finishing, they were shot at and had to take cover behind the fire truck. They managed to get into the truck safely, and quickly left the scene. As they left, they could see the arsonists leaving their hiding place to prepare to burn the buildings again.

    Sure enough, shortly after returning to the station they were called out again to the strip mall. This time they put on their flak jackets and waited for the police to accompany them on the call. They put out the fire in what was left of the mall. That was the longest night of my life, and I didnít even know how truly bad it was until later.

    Spouses of firefighters also support each other. Whether it is by getting together for Bunco monthly, taking care of each otherís kids, or just chatting over a cup of coffee, it is important to share any concerns with others who understand. Marriage can be challenging enough for couples who work Monday through Friday from nine to five. Add the stress of dealing with an always changing work schedule, a dangerous environment, and the need to be completely self sufficient, and it can be disastrous for a marriage. The best way to cope is to maintain your sense of humor.

    Humor and laughter is an integral part of fire station life. My husband brings home stories of outrageous deeds and unbelievable wit nearly every shift. If late night talk show hosts need new material or writers, they could do no better than some of the creative minds on the fire department. Especially funny stories of practical jokes or extreme composure after being water dropped become urban legends.

    When I was dating my husband and planning to visit him at the fire station for the first time, he warned me to look up before I entered the station. He said that sometimes first-time visitors were water-dropped when they entered the station house. I had no idea what he was talking about. These were adults. He must be joking. Well, I was lucky that my ignorance did not get me into trouble. I remained dry throughout that first visit. It was only later that I realized he was not joking.

    I realized immediately that it is not only the firefighters who have to have a good sense of humor. During our wedding ceremony, our exchange of vows was delayed by several minutes as the blaring of a siren just outside the church doors drowned out the ministerís words. Later at the reception, one of the layers of cake looked odd to me. When I investigated, I found the inside of the cake had been hollowed out, filled with paper towels, and then recovered with frosting. When I turned to my new husband in shock, he just shrugged as if to say, ďOf course they cored the cake.Ē

    The practical jokes continued at home. Our children learned the hard way that they had to learn to laugh in the face of disaster. Of course, a childís idea of disaster is not exactly the same as an adultís. When our oldest daughter was in elementary school, she worked hard to complete a Ďbook float,í which is a visual book report built on the top of a shoebox. Her book float was elaborate, with trees made of broccoli tops glued to the shoebox. When she was getting ready to go to school the next morning, she found that all of her Ďtreesí had been chopped down! Her father had eaten the tops of the broccoli that morning before he left for work. He thought it was a hilarious joke. She did not feel that way. After many tears and an emergency session with a glue gun, she finally began to see the humor in the situation.

    Our youngest daughter found that she had to be on guard at all times. One day when she was watching her favorite TV show, she became frantic because the TV kept changing channels all by itself. Her father finally confessed that he was using the master remote control from a distance. Now I find that I am the one who needs to stay on her toes in our house. Our children have learned the hard way to give as well as they got.

    Without a sense of humor, a ready joke, and the ability to see the bright side of things, the tragedy firefighters encounter every shift would soon overwhelm them. It is a coping mechanism to help deal with the seriousness of the job. If a firefighter candidate cannot laugh easily and often at him or herself, the candidate will either not succeed, or will not be happy on the job. He or she will never understand the culture of the fire service.

    After my husband was in a terrible head-on collision between the engine he was on and a police cruiser, he was out of work for several months. He fought to return to work full duty. I think the fire service must be one of the only professions in which its members enjoy the job so much they will not consider an alternative.

    My husband shows up at the station 45 minutes before the start of his shift, just in case he can take a call for the captain coming off duty and allow him to leave work on time. When my husband is going off duty, he stays to share a cup of coffee and some laughs with the oncoming crew. I know of no other profession in which its members are not in a hurry to leave after their shift is over.

    So why do so many people dream of becoming firefighters?

    The fire department schedule is one of the biggest draws to the job. There is no other job in which you can work only ten days a month, with either six or four days off at a time. The problem is that when my husband wants to go on vacation, he doesnít understand that I canít match his schedule and just take off four or six days at a time. At least I know his schedule a year in advance!

    Because their schedules are so different from everyone elseís, firefighters like to vacation together. It is common to see large groups of firefighter families on vacation in Hawaii, Baja, or Lake Havasu. Itís also convenient to share the childcare duties with other parents.

    Firefighters generally enjoy their work schedule, but it can be hard on a family and marriage. Spouses must be self sufficient, and prepared to take care of crises on their own. If a firefighterís child is sick, he or she cannot just leave the station to pick up the child from school. It is critical that the firefighter remain at work to keep the station fully staffed for emergencies. If a firefighter goes home, it must be for a serious injury or illness.

    The firefighter schedule can also be inconvenient on holidays. Most people are used to spending holidays with their family. Firefighters donít have a choice. If they are scheduled to work on a holiday, they work. Unless they are going out of town, they do not request the day off. Everyone would love to have holidays off to spend with his or her family, but someone must work. If they were to call in sick, and no one was signed up to work overtime, another firefighter would be force hired and pulled out of a family gathering. A firefighter spouse must be flexible enough to be prepared to cook and entertain all by him or herself at a momentís notice.

    It is expected that the younger firefighters without families offer to work on major holidays. As they get older and have their own families, the favor will be repaid by the next generation of firefighters.

    When a firefighter is scheduled to work on a major holiday, the family members are often invited into the station for a holiday meal. The crew will go all out and prepare a lavish feast. Sometimes the family members end up eating all by themselves as the crew is called out on an emergency. The kids donít mind. They feel that the more time in the station, the better. Again, it just goes with the job.

    Because they work a set schedule regardless of holidays, firefighters get time off which includes both vacation and holidays. When they take time off, it is usually for several weeks at a time. I have found that having your husband on vacation can be worse than having your kids out of school for the summer. A firefighter with too much time on his hands can get into much more trouble than your kids.

    Firefighters are generally do-it-yourselfers. This is why you will often see them in Home Depot. They are mechanically inclined, and are used to improvising to solve problems quickly. You may come home from work one day and find that you have a new laundry chute or the washing machine is being rebuilt. If you are someone who likes things done a certain way, then for the sake of marital harmony, I suggest you call a professional out to build, repair, or replace whatever it is before your husbandís next vacation, or four or six day.

    Most of us go on vacation to get away from our jobs. When my husband is on vacation, he seeks out fire stations. I have gotten used to losing my husband for a few hours during a vacation while he rides along with the local fire department. Of course he is hoping to go on a really Ďgoodí call (which to the rest of us means Ďbadí).

    My husband has T-shirts from fire departments in Alaska, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, Texas, Washington, Washington, D.C., Utah and many more. Iím almost embarrassed to say that I even visited a fire station on my own when I recently went to New York City. When my husband sees someone wearing a fire department T-shirt, he will always ask that person if he or she is on the job. There is an instant bond between them, to the point that two total strangers can joke and tease each other about their respective departments.

    Another advantage about the fire department is the benefits. There are usually many options for medical and dental plans, so you can pick the plan that is right for you whether you are single or married with a family. The credit union canít be beat. They give personalized service and actually know your name when you call.

    One of the biggest benefits is the retirement package. It is negotiated as part of the firefightersí contract. Unfortunately, the life expectancy of a firefighter after retirement is not as long as that of a person who has not been exposed to smoke, chemicals, stress, blood, injury, and interrupted sleep for their entire professional career.

    Depending on their age when they were hired, firefighters usually retire in their fifties. However, they will not be bored after retirement. Most firefighters have hobbies which take up a great deal of their time, such as skiing, fishing, boating, fishing, traveling, fishing, or biking. When I was dating my future husband, he said he liked to fish. I was thinking that in Southern California, itís only fishing season in the summer. No big deal, maybe I would even go with him sometimes. It was only later that I realized that it is always fishing season somewhere in the world. I should have been forewarned when he had to check his fishing tide book before committing to a wedding date.

    Every firefighter has a side business. This business is not reserved for after retirement. They conduct this business throughout their fire service career. Since they work only ten days a month, there is plenty of time off to do carpentry, plumbing, concrete, tile setting, painting, roofing, CPR instruction, writing, or manage whatever business they have invested in. The advantage to other firefighters (and their wives) is that whenever something needs to be fixed at home, there is always a firefighter with the skills to do it. Forget paying full price to a plumber, electrician, or drywaller! By trading skills and services, most firefighters are able to remodel and upgrade their homes.

    Firefighters earn a good salary, and are rarely ever laid off. Overtime shifts also help immensely. However, I donít know if you can truly compensate someone for the long-term effects of a chemical fire, or the emotional scars from being first on scene at a horrendous child abuse incident. Firefighters seldom talk about the really terrible things they witness, but we all know we can count on them when weíre in trouble.

    People love firefighters. Children and even some adults wave at them as they drive by on their big trucks. When others accompany a firefighter, even off duty, the benefits often extend to them. After the Southern California wildfires, Disneyland in Anaheim was offering free admission for firefighters and their families as a thank you. We invited our neighbors to go with us. I am a physical therapist, my neighbor is a teacher, and her husband is a computer consultant. None of us has ever been admitted to an amusement park for free just because of our profession. Firefighters, however, are universally loved, appreciated, and welcomed.

    It may seem to outside observers that firefighters all look similar: tall, lean, dark hair and a moustache. Well, departments have changed over the years as they seek greater diversity, skills and strengths. They try to hire firefighters who can relate to and speak the languages of the people in the community. They hire female firefighters who can contribute their abilities and perspective to the department. They even hired my husband despite the fact that he cannot grow a decent moustache.

    Maybe one reason that firefighters seem so alike is that they have the same attitudes. They are honest, brave (you wouldnít catch me running into a burning building), and exceedingly generous with their time and talents. When they take the time to tutor children, fix up a dilapidated house in the neighborhood, or collect and hand out Christmas gifts to disadvantaged children, it is all on their own time. Their spirit of public service is an example that should humble the rest of us. I canít resent the time my husband takes to help others, because it is part of who he is. Our youngest daughter had a wonderful time one Christmas when she was able to help hand out donated gifts, and ride with Santa in his sleigh atop a fire truck.

    I have wondered how the fire department manages to hire so many people with the same attitudes. I guess it is because they know what they are looking for. The selflessness and willingness to sacrifice canít be taught. It must be an integral part of their makeup. When a firefighter or family member is seriously ill, others will line up to cover his or her shifts with no expectation of being repaid for their time.

    As a spouse, I will never understand my husbandís excitement when he is called on to spend days fighting a raging wildfire, or enthusiastically describes in vivid detail the fire that ripped through the chemical warehouse. But his coworkers understand. They will always be there for him, working towards the same goal, and watching his back. I count on them to do that.

    The fire service is a very large, caring, fun-loving family, of which I am proud to be an extended member. I know that even if my husband is lost at sea during one of his many Baja fishing trips, or something unthinkable happens during one of his calls at work, my children and I will always be taken care of.

    Paul Lepore
    Battalion Chief

  2. #27
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    DonSmithnotTMD's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Fayetteville, N.C.


    Quote Originally Posted by BCLepore View Post
    Getting hired on the fire department but losing a wife in the process is not a victory in my book. Make sure your wife is in complete support. Working 24-hour shifts is difficult for many wives. I encourage you to have your wife speak to the wives of any of your firefighter friends. The more support you get at home, the greater your chances of getting hired.

    Paul Lepore
    Battalion Chief
    Sorry, chief. I gotta argue that one. If I had divorced my ex-wife when I wanted to instead of when I did, I would have been a lot better off. Hate to say it, but it's a consideration.
    I am a highly trained professional and can find my :: expletive deleted:: with either hand in various light conditions.

  3. #28
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    Oct 2002

    Default 40 and up

    If your 40 or older they can not discriminate agianst you

  4. #29
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    Jul 2006
    Outside Philadelphia


    Quote Originally Posted by medic2971 View Post
    If your 40 or older they can not discriminate agianst you
    Uhhh, Yeah, they can...just can't be obvious about like the Federal Fire Service is. It sucks, but it happens everyday across America.

    On a brighter note, there is a gentleman right now in the Reading City, Pa Academy who is in his 50's, and is a retired City of Allentown FF. So yeah, it can be done!!
    A Fire Chief has ONLY 1 JOB and that's to take care of his fireman. EVERYTHING else falls under this.

  5. #30
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    Join Date
    Oct 2007

    Default 40 yo rookie

    Terry just joined a volunteer department up in the Minneapolis area. Just got state certified and am working on my EMT. Goal is to join a full time department, and I have already turned 41.

    Stick with it. If you feel you can make it happen than it can be done. Just wish I would of made the jump 10 years ago, can't help thinking time is working against me a little bit. But I am determined to make it my carrer.

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