So, as I’ve said for quite some time, FF4CURES is far more than just about one particular cure, and that “cures” can be for a variety of things and it is important to promote and encourage them all.
In this post I want to tackle a topic that I see a problem with in many, not all, but many firehouses and how we as firefighters need to get a handle on it. When was the last time you got your spouses, fiancé, girlfriends, children, and families as a whole together for a firehouse event? When did you last have a cookout and some games where they get to toss on some gear and get a little competitive? Perhaps the new guys might not have ever heard of such a thing or even seen it…Waterball? That’s something we’ve seen in those choppy VHS movies laying around, but never seen it done, right? The “cure” so to speak is out there, but I can’t say it’s going to be a comfortable move or something that everyone wants to do. Read a little about a recent experience that is changing lives and going to make a difference in houses everywhere.
The wife and I had the opportunity to be a part of FlameFest 2015 in Glade Springs, WVA, about two weeks ago. Yes, leave all the funny jokes about the name alone, we’ve heard them all and I’m sure came up with a few more amongst the tables when it came up in discussion at the event. Yes, the name is being changed, but I’m not privy to the new name yet…
FlameFest is an event by FirefighterWife.com and made possible through many sponsors who did one heck of a job putting it together. Marriage topics, communication topics, bonding, financial planning (from people with fire service background), massage, firefighter behavioral health, fitness, funeral planning, and much more were discussed.
Now keep in mind those were just the planned topics and not what the many couples and small groups were talking about in their free time around the campfire, on the patio, on the porch, and elsewhere. The entire event was full of communication, fun, and a great time. Honestly if I were to do a recap of the entire weekend, I would be typing for a few days. Instead what I’m going to do is tackle a few selective topics hopefully over the next month or so and go from there.
One of the exciting and hands-on events at FlameFest was the touch-a-truck event. This had the look and feel of a family fun day, except just with spouses that culminated in an evening cookout and live music. The day event was possible through work by Rhett Fleitz (TheFireCritic.com) with assistance by Willie Wines Jr. (IronFiremen.com), local F.O.O.L.S. chapters (Appalachian F.O.O.L.S., Valley of the F.O.O.L.S.), Beckley Fire Department, Beaver Fire Department, and Coal City Fire Department. Yeah yeah I know what you’re thinking, why is this any fun for the spouses if the guys are just going to be around fire trucks? The answer is that the event was for the ladies (and could easily be adaptable to families!) The afternoon long event put them in touch with a variety of trucks onsite to work around and check out. Then there were several stations (forcible entry, wall breaching, and hoseline deployment) not to mention the fact that they could do it in gear, masked up, and on air if they chose to. Sound fun, they thought so!?
There was a parking lot full of couples with apparatus setup and obstacles constantly in use. Firefighters constantly in motion as they watched, helped, and talked their spouses through the events. No there wasn’t shouting, no this wasn’t forced, and no this wasn’t an awkward event whatsoever, this was perhaps a phenomenon that you just had to witness to believe. Going on 16 years in the fire service (and everyday learning the trade) I can tell you that these “fire wives” break stereotypes that you hear, as did their fire husbands. I will go as far as saying these wives are the 1-percenters that are out there. Call us whatever you want, (because several of us have already caught crap about attending such an event), but Firefighter Salty McSalterson isn’t the one that’s going to grow old with you. He’s not taking the kids to practice, packing your lunch, handling the birthday party when you leave on a run, nor is he working and contributing financially. The list goes on.
We firefighters are quick to order pizza after that run or that training; grab some beers and throw a small party after a job. We are accustomed to celebrate the holidays, celebrate retirements, and celebrate building brotherhood, but even at that we still aren’t ordering those “Big Ass Cakes” to celebrate the moments that we need to cherish. Even more troubling, we aren’t celebrating and involving those who are our biggest support systems or who “allow” us the ability to pursue our calling. We have withdrawn from our support systems at home and the ones that are going to be there long after we hop off the rig.
It doesn’t have to be big or elaborate if you haven’t done this in awhile. The biggest hurdle might not be getting the food cooked, but rather getting the involvement from your members to have some fun with it. This doesn’t require an “email or memo” to go out, this requires something we suck at…some verbal communication. Don’t text people to break this idea out to the membership, bring it up at a meeting or training. Put a poster up at the firehouse and set a date, maybe even send some invitations out addressed to the family (a piece of letter head signed by the Chief is not what I’m suggesting here…) be creative, because its going to be more meaningful.
The meal doesn’t need to be a steak dinner, it can be as simple as hot dogs, burgers, or some chicken and some sides. Get your association or auxiliary (theres something the younger guys don’t often know about) and see if they will provide the main dish. Pass a signup around and get people to bring something and share the load.
Drag out some corn hole boards and maybe have a kickball game at the park. Have some clean gear around and spray some water. If you have the luxury of a forcible entry simulator, bring it, and make sure you can keep it going for awhile because if you think we firefighters can challenge each other, you haven’t seen anything until the wives start challenging husbands and challenge each other. The important thing is to have something to do before and after the meal to keep people engaged. How many of your kids know what your fire gear is like and get/give the tours around the firehouse (lots of people saying of course)? Now, how many have your spouses, fiancé’s or girlfriends gotten that same tour, tried on the gear, masked up, or maybe even went through the SCBA maze? No hands up? WHY NOT? Has it even crossed our minds that they even remotely might be interested in what takes you away from them? No I’m not saying that this is going to be a recruiting event by any means, but some of the comments you will hear from them are priceless and going to be very meaningful.
What you’re going to see is not only are the couples building better relationships, but you’re going to see wives and families building better relationships with each other, kids knowing each other more, and being a much larger support system that’s going to have each others back when the times are tough.
Bring back the family, bring back traditions, or maybe in some houses you need to start some traditions. These aren’t new concepts or new culture that we need to approve and send up the chain, these are concepts that we are going to find pay huge dividends on those long shifts, long calls, rough nights, ruined holidays, and when your family is in trouble.
We our “our brothers keeper,” and after being a part of the FirefighterWife event, those ladies truly are, “their sisters keeper,” and I am pleased to see exist. They are making a mark and taking the nation by storm. Make sure that in your houses that you are providing ways to support this and make it happen.