Hi FireWives! I am Chelsi. I have been married to a CAL FIRE firefighter for 10 years (we just celebrated our wedding anniversary a few days ago in Maui). It hasn't always been easy loving a firefighter. Working for a state agency keeps him rather busy during the summer months in California. Our longest haul was three summers ago, 23 days on duty. Whoo, that was tough, both on our marriage, but also on our children. We have three boys, ages 13,9, and 7. When he's away, the boys miss him immensely, which in turn makes me miss him more.
A lot of people don't know that when there is a large incident in California our CAL FIRE firefighters can be away from their families for several weeks. Being forced on duty means they may go to a fire, cover a station, or be put in staging. When they are given R&R days, they may not be carrying out those days at home but instead in a hotel or at their home station. It can be very difficult for the family and the firefighter. For these reasons, it is my hope that we can spread love and positivity to our CAL FIRE families throughout the year.
To introduce myself, I wanted to share some things I have learned through loving my firefighter. When times get tough, these things keep me focused on the positive.
We are independent. We love having our firefighter at home with us, but when he is forced or away on a strike team, our plans can go on without him. We may miss him A LOT but we can still have fun without him.
We are stronger than we think. Things go sideways sometimes. We get texts in the middle of the day that say, “I am safe” and then don’t hear anything for 24 to 48 hours. We pray, we ask for support, and we muster up the courage to go on with our lives. We depend on the theory that “no news is good news”. We are strong even when we feel weak.
Find a tribe, love them hard. Finding a group of ladies who live and understand the life of a CAL FIRE is invaluable. The old salty firewife is your best ally, she’s been through most of it, and she probably has a solution for your problem. Find her and love her hard. If you are a CAL FIRE wife or girlfriend looking for other wives to connect with, we have a facebook group just for you! Please join us on the CAL FIRE Wives/Girlfriends Group.
Going to counseling doesn’t mean you are broken, it just means you need support or advise. Our marriage was on the brink of disaster just a few years ago. We made a very good decision to call Employee Assistance and went to counseling. We were not communicating our needs to each other, neither were either our feelings being validated. The counselor gave us sound advice and validated our feelings. Seek support. It’s good for both of you.
Sometimes to understand and be a support, I need to go through training too. My FF was the Critical Incident Stress Management Team Leader and Chaplain for his unit for some time in MEU. We had a police officer LODD in our small town. My husband gave support to police officers while I was called on by their wives. I had no idea how to offer support while I was also mourning the loss of a friend. It was hard. I decided that I needed to go to Chaplain Training with him. So, we did. I feel much more equipped to be his helpmate and understand better the rigors of his job. I was also validated in all my feelings as a firewife as the men who were leading the training shared their experience as husbands who served Cal Fire. All in all, it was a great experience and one that I will always find to have been the most valuable.
If there was a handbook, you would have to throw it out. Every single one of us has a different experience in life. There is no exception in the fire service. We all experience it differently. That’s what makes us unique. Do your own thing unapologetically, and if it works, share!
Our kids may be disappointed from time to time, but they will be proud of their parents. I don’t remember a time when my kids didn’t announce with pride where their daddy was when asked. They wear every “daddy shirt” with pride and they want to be just like him when they grow up. So, when they are disappointed, I just remind them that he is doing an important job of helping other people.
Make a visual countdown to off duty time. In the winter, it’s the regular shift days. In the summer, its counting down the days until MOU Vacation. If the number goes down because he calls and says he’s on his way, it’s a surprise! Win/win for everyone. No more answering heartbreaking questions.
Give the kids something to look forward to doing as a family when he is off duty. We plan something big at the end of fire season every year for the kiddos to look forward to. This year it was Disneyland, next year it will be a Disney Cruise. The year after that, who knows. The point is, they need the light at the end of the tunnel just as much as we do.
Don’t hide your feelings to spare his, even if he is on a fire. He doesn’t get a free pass just because he has a stressful job. We all have jobs to do and one is not more important than the other. It is important for him to be safe, however, it is not your responsibility to shelter him. When you have a bad day, tell him. If something goes sideways at home, share. If you need a break, he needs to know. Talk to him. He’s wants and needs to know so that he can help. This season, I needed a break, so my firefighter saved all his MOU for fire season. It sucks for him because he hasn’t been to any fires, but it’s helped me to get valuable rest. Next season, he can proceed to party, but this season is about me. That’s what being partners is all about.
Most importantly, we are lucky to live this life. I don’t know many people who get paid to take 2 weeks off at a time, or that get 4 days off a week. We get more time with our firefighters than we really think. Yes, we sacrifice during the summer, but we get so much time as a family during the rest of the year. That’s awesome if you ask me. We form stronger bonds and make better friends than most people.
We have a support system at our disposal whenever we need it. We have kick ass insurance and access to medical care that most people would kill for. And most importantly, our significant others get to do what they love and we get to love and support them while they do.
if you have made it this far, remember that we are here for you and that you are #calfirestrong. <3