Thursday, August 23, 2012

Q&A - Volunteer Wife

Over the next few months I would like to offer a peak into the lives of a fire spouses. Before 374 joined the department, I had NO idea how much it would change our lives - he wanted to become a firefighter, I didn't realize I would become a fire wife. Firefighting isn't just about him, it's about us as a family and how we live the lifestyle. These first few weeks will feature volunteer spouses.

Being a firefighter's spouse can mean many different things depending on who you are talking to. Some women are married to or dating a full time firefighter who's shifts are scheduled and she knows when to expect him home and when he will be at work. Planning things is easier because you have a shift schedule to go off of. Those married to wildland firefighters deal with their spouses being on a fire for weeks, sometimes months at a time. Some go without phone calls for weeks depending on what kind of duty their firefighter is on. Then there are volunteer wives. I am a volunteer wife. You have no idea when their next call will be. The pager can go off at any time - day, night, birthday party, date, Christmas dinner. It is their duty to answer when those tones go off. Each lifestyle poses different hardships as well as perks.

I recently interviewed Tracy. Tracy and I are members of a fire wives group on Facebook. I asked her a few questions about what life as a volunteer wife has been like for her.

*How long have you been a volunteer spouse?
8 years. FF joined his first volunteer department in 2004.

*Did you have reservations about being in a relationship with a firefighter?
Not exactly. For a couple of reasons. The first being we'd already put in 2 years when he decided to join a VFD. Things were already "serious" so I wasn't going anywhere. Secondly, I was just as excited about it as he was. It was an opportunity to meet new people in a town were we barely knew anyone. I respected his desire to help others. The whole 'man in uniform' thing I suppose. Beyond that I didn't know what being the girlfriend/wife of a volunteer firefighter really meant. I was completely naive about the life style. And you can't have reservations about what you don't understand. 

*What was the hardest thing for you to adjust to? 
Do you still have any reservations about it? I've had to adjust to different things as our relationship changed. After we got married I had a hard time sleeping if he was gone at night. Not only because I was worried about him, but also because I'd just gotten used to him being there. Becoming parents in the VFD world required adjustment too. At first I asked FF to turn off the pager at night so it wouldn't wake our son. Now I have to explain to a two year old why Daddy randomly runs out of the house once in awhile. I expect there will be more adjustment when our son gets active in extra curricular activities that FF may have to miss. I wouldn't say I have reservations about our VFD life. It's part of the man I love and I have no reservations about that. Are there things that frustrate me? Most definitely yes. Even after 8 years I still feel like I take second place to fire sometimes. There are department politics and the occasional drama. I could do without that, but I can't do without him. And fire is who he is. 

*I know for me personally, I still have some resentment sometimes when his pager goes off and out the door he runs. Did you have similar issues in the beginning? Do those still come up from time to time? How did you learn to deal with it?
For me, the resentment came over time. Eight years ago it was all new and exciting. Just like a relationship, joining the VFD had a "honeymoon phase". After awhile, it wore off. Not only was I over the novel idea of my man rushing out to save someone's life, he got more involved in the department. Which meant more time. More meetings. More trainings. More events. More time away from home. Not to mention the pager interrupting our daily life on a regular basis. The more he missed of OUR life the more I felt jealousy take over. Fire had definitely become the mistress in our relationship. Followed by guilt. How on earth can I resent him for leaving me to pull someone out of a car wreck or put out a fire? In fear of sounding like a horrible person, I didn't say anything. Bad idea. Eventually I exploded and poor FF had absolutely no warning because I'd never so much as let on that it bothered me. And it resulted in a pretty ugly fight. But it had to happen. Eight years later, if we're in the middle of something when the pager goes off, he'll politely ask if he should go. More than 90 percent of the time I've said yes before he's even finished asking. But in those instances when I feel the Mistress creeping up too close, it gives me an opportunity to say no. 

*Does it ever get less scary? Do you still worry every time the pager goes off?
After 8 years I can honestly say I don't worry much at all anymore. He's well trained. He's gotten valuable first hand experience. And he's extremely safety conscious. I'm more worried about him getting hit by a car working an accident on the interstate than I am about him getting hurt in a fire. That's also a testament to the sort of calls our department experiences. The majority of them are medical or accidents and not fire.

*Are you involved in station life (Auxiliary, help with fundraisers, go up for work nights, etc) or do you let him do his thing and just support from home? What is his station's "opinion" on families at the station?
Our VFD doesn't have an Auxiliary. I have supported the VFD in the past in informal ways. I enjoy photography, so I take photos and help out at their events. I've helped them write grants and press releases. But for the most part I support my FF behind the scenes. The station is very welcoming of families. All of his fellow FFs know me and our son. We've hung out while they check trucks and gear before their regular meetings. I'm cognizant of the fact that it is a serious place though. I'm careful to make sure we leave so any official business starts on time. Considering the majority of the firefighters in the department have families, it's a place where we all feel comfortable. 

*What do you love most about being a fire wife?
Aside from my husband, we have met some of our very best friends through fire. 

*What advice would you give to someone whose spouse/significant other is thinking about becoming a firefighter, or to someone who is considering a long term relationship/marriage to a firefighter? 
Looking back to when my FF joined 8 years ago my mistake was thinking it was HIS decision. I didn't realize it should be OUR decision. So my advice to anyone in love with a firefighter or someone thinking about becoming a firefighter would be to ask a lot of questions. When their regular meetings are held, how often they conduct trainings, roughly how many calls they get a year, what annual events they host, etc. All of those things will help you understand how much your FF will be gone. I would even go a step further and ask your FF to see if any wives would be willing to meet you for coffee. If not turn to the internet. Facebook and Twitter have tremendous groups for fire wives. The only way to know what you're in for is to find out from the original source.

I also asked Tracy to share a little bit about herself and her firefighter. Here's what she had to say:

My FF and I met in college through mutual friends. We got married three and a half years later. This fall we'll celebrate our seventh anniversary. We have one son who just turned two. In addition to being a volunteer firefighter, my husband's full time job is a fire specialist with the Department of Natural Resources. He oversees the wildfire program for the state. In addition, he has built a wildfire engine that is contracted with the federal government. So our house is all fire, all the time. When he gets some down time he enjoys hunting and fishing. I'm a marketing director for a non-profit by day and run a photography business on the side ( I like to write, scrapbook, and target shoot. I'm also on Twitter: @TracyAnne_

I would like to thank Tracy for taking the time to answer my questions and let us peak into her life. If you have any other questions for Tracy, please leave them in my comments and I will be sure to get them to her!


  1. Awesome of you to feature FF Wives! We definitely deserve more recognition. Just one point :-) my fiance is a full time scheduled FF but there are many many times when he is scheduled off, and is held over (mandatoried). San Diego is in a sad state right now and they are SO understaffed. He gets held over because there are so many openings and sometimes is supposed to be home on a 6 or 4 day, and never comes home at all. Or he's on his days off and gets called right back! So us Southern CA FF Wives feel your pain...we can't plan a thing!

  2. Amanda, thanks for stopping by! In the next few weeks there will be a feature on full time wives, as well as wildland firefighter wives. My FF is looking into getting his EMT training and getting on a full time department. While I know it would be more of a structured schedule, I also fear not having control of the overtime shifts.

    Thanks for leaving a comment!