Work-Life Balance: The Uncertainty of the Fire Life

BlogHer Original Post

More Wheeling Avenue Fire PicsBeing married to a firefighter has its perks. His 24-on, 48-off schedule allows for easy scheduling and schedule maneuvering (in theory). We have a whole family of firefighters, fire spouses and other fire kids who are willing to help and play when we need it. And that whole "hot firefighter" thing isn’t too shabby. But it does have its... moments.

We had just finished hosting our first Christmas Eve. My parents had driven in for the event. My mother-in-law was playing happily with the boys. The dinner that my husband and I had meticulously planned and cooked with care had turned out fantastic. And then, without warning -- as always -- the pager went off. He ran out the door, leaving me with a stack of dishes a mile high.

Another time, we had decided to escape for an evening to a local resort to have some “us time.” We were a few drinks in and fully enjoying our time together. The buzz-buzz of the pager killed my buzz. He called in and said he couldn’t come in. A few minutes later, the pager went off again. He didn’t go in that night, but I know his mind was on his fellow firefighters, the fully involved house and the people involved.

And then there was that time that I ranted and raved about “the Valentine’s Day that the fire department ruined.” A few days later, I realized how silly the ranting had been. That’s the last year we celebrated Valentine’s Day. I maintain that it’s because we have enough romantic interludes throughout the year that we don’t need a silly holiday to force it. But maybe I just don’t want to be let down. Again.

There’s an inevitable page on my birthday. This year he will miss trick-or-treating, one son's birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. When he was promoted to fire investigator, I was alone for two weeks, during which everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

It’s been harder as of late. The schedule managing has been a bit more difficult as my newspaper job has brought about more hours. We’re still making it work, as we always do, but when you factor in my freelance job(s) and the fact that I’m working a lot at home as well, the 24/7/365 of the firefighter life -- the fact that he can be called out at the drop of a hat -- can weigh heavy on us both.

Thankfully, we both recognize how difficult it can be. We are careful to take time for one another -- date nights, cuddle time after the boys are in bed and the occasional, much coveted weekend away. We’re both good communicators. I’m not saying we don’t have arguments and that I don’t occasionally forget to take out the trash when he's at work, but we manage. Even when he’s gone for nearly two days on a very big, very scary fire.

I’m the first to tout the benefits of the fire life. I talked about them with Shari Simpson, another fire wife blogger, on an episode of Firefighter Netcast. But I’m also a realist. It’s not always easy. And sometimes I just really miss my husband. Thankfully, I know he misses me as well, and we, uh, more than make up for it when we find each other again. And when he runs out the door, leaving me with an overturned schedule and stress laughing in my face, I take a deep breath, give him a kiss and tell him I love him... because I never quite know if he’s coming home.

Thankfully, the fire family niche on the blogosphere has given me support over the years. Here are some great posts about the fire schedule and family life. I encourage you to read them!

  • Fire Wife Katie shares a morning conversation that also happens at my house and how doing a few things to keep a routine help with her husband’s fire related absences.

    Their dad is gone a lot, and there really isn't a predictability to it, so I'm glad that our morning routine makes the irregular, regular.

  • Val at Fire Fighter Wife talks about that last minute overtime and how quickly you can rearrange a schedule.

    Holidays will be here before we know it. Passing up OT isn’t ever easy and it’s almost always something we can change our schedule around to accommodate. I guess it’s a good thing I’ve never really been a scheduled person, so it may be easier for me to roll with than some. Who knows?

  • Mallory at A Firefighter’s Wife talks about the craziness of sporadic single parenting, the dreaded 72 and her beloved “village.”

    Like this week for example. Ricky worked for 3 days straight. And with firefighters (at least on the West Coast) the shifts are 24 hours. So for 72 hours, I was a single parent. And although Ricky works a 72 pretty often, it’s still something I’m not quite used to. So, for many of the 72’s, I pack up some clothes for Des and me, and head over to my parents.

Is your spouse/partner a firefighter (or police officer or other line-of-duty crazy job)? How do you deal with the scheduling, the separation and the general craziness of it all?


Contributing Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and newspaper photographer.

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