Lets begin with what it doesn't mean.
Being greeted every day by this:
The reality of it is: (1) Firefighters look just like your average guy, and (2) You don't see them every day. There are exceptions to both of those things, but generally, firefighters look just like a guy you might see in Walmart or at the car shop or moving furniture; regular guys. Also, many fire houses have a 24/48 schedule, meaning that each shift works for 24 hours (1 day) straight, and then has 48 hours (2 days) off. Which adds up to a 48 hour work-week on a slow week and 72 hour work-week on a full week. There are some places that work a series of 12 hour shifts, and the 48/96 hour work week is gaining in popularity (trust me, I just googled it), but the traditional way is 24/48.
There are also other realities to being married to a firefighter:
- Washing and folding and packing more pairs of blue pants than anyone would want to see. They don't come home in their Turnout Gear; that stays at the station. What most firefighters wear looks more like a regular uniform, with blue pants, cargo pockets, and a (in Handsome's case) gray polo (complete with misspelled last name. We don't judge).
- Either accepting the relatively expensive bills that come with the shift eating out all the time, or taking the time to prepare and pack breakfasts/lunches/dinners.
- Taking on the majority of the household chores, and not just limited to the indoors. This may not be true for all firewives, but Handsome's got 2 jobs (another firefighter reality, as the profession is notoriously low-paying) and as a result, he's gone a LOT. And since Handsome's other job is also a firefighting job, when he does finally make it home, he's often been up all night running calls, and he's tired. Like, serious exhaustion/sleep for 14 hours tired. And on top of that, most fire houses require intense cleaning every day by the firefighters on shift. So, when he gets home from saving lives all night and cleaning the fire station all day, he's really beat and really not wanting to clean up around here, a mess he feels he "wasn't even here to make". And thats an argument that has some merit, seeing as its only been me and the dog for the last 2 days.
- Feeling 2nd to the "fire family". This is a not-so-glamorous part of "the brotherhood". And its not such a heavy deal in our house, mostly because Handsome's fire stations don't have a lot of the big fires that it takes to create the strong bonds that carry over to outside of work. But these men that live together and eat together and have eachothers backs really do begin to feel like family. And balancing the two families (work and home) can be quite tricky.
- Making my own friendships and building my own hobbies and setting up my own get-togethers, without factoring the husband into it. Because he's probably working. Its another tricky balance to really invest in friendships and set up weekly to-do's, and still not want to blow them off on the few days that he's not working.
- Accepting the time that training is going to take away. In SC, they have a really great training facility that offers many classes, some necessary and some optional, all year round. The only problem I have with the place is that its 2+ hours from where we live, and so if Handsome has a week-long class, he generally stays away. Its worth it, though. I mean, its a little bit important for him to know what he's doing out there. Can't just make it up like I do in the classroom (oops!)
- Recognizing the realities of the tragedy they see. Again, since my lovely sweetheart is nearly sociopathic when it comes to how he views tragedy, its not a huge heavy deal at my house. But there are days when he's come home and I ask how many people he saved, jokingly, and he admits that in fact he lost someone during CPR. Or didn't get him out of the vehicle in time. Its not a flowers and birdsong job. And that reminder of other people's loss is yet another reality of loving a firefighter.
- An intense feeling of pride. My brave, handsome, bizarre husband is willing to risk his life to help others. And I'm proud of him for that. He often doesn't understand, and he thinks everyone wants to do this great job he gets to do. But really, he's a hero. And thats pretty sweet.
The understanding of all of these realities is something that I'm continually working towards. Please do not think that I love everything about it and am so happy that I do most of the housework and my own job, as well as spend time with my hubby rarely. But I am proud of him, and I'm so glad he's found a job that he loves. I knew him before he found this, and he hated his job, and was not a joy to be around, to put it mildly. So yes, this job is not the easiest to deal with. But its his dream, and he's really good at it. So I'll deal with the 134-gazillion pairs of blue pants, and the late-night pager tones, and the packing and packing and packing of lunches; he loves fire, I love him.
On a final note, there are those of you who are thinking I've left out the part about the gut-wrenching, unable-to-sleep panic that sets in when I know he's fighting a structure fire. I didn't. Yes, my imagination can run away with me sometimes, but generally I'm a pretty cool customer. I think it does help that, as I said, Handsome's current departments don't have a lot of big fires. But also, I've accepted the fact that, while firefighting is dangerous, so is life. And really, Handsome was pretty dangerous when I met him. Lets just say there was a lot of risk-taking involved in his teen years. So I knew when I married him that he was dangerous and that he liked it that way. I kinda knew what I was getting into. Besides, God's got him whether he's crossing the street or making a high-angle ropes rescue. I can't really make either situation more safe for him.