It has taken me a little longer than others to get my thoughts together to comment on the events in Westerlo yesterday morning. Spoiler alert **** Long post ahead. Cliff notes version **** I am in awe of our volunteer first responders and am so grateful for the caring community to which I belong.
First, let me say that I’ve been a member of Westerlo Volunteer Fire Company for 5 years. When I joined here I was issued a pager so I could hear the calls and know what was going on and if the Auxiliary needed to respond. Prior to moving up here I was at Thomas Corners Fire in Scotia. Their call volume was much higher and the Auxiliary was called if needed. Actually I think most of the wives would just go to the station when their husbands went on a big call. I didn’t get a lot of opportunity to help out there.
Now, and keep in mind that I live 5 houses from the station, I am Westerlo Fire’s Company President, and date a firefighter, the tones going out take on a whole different meaning. Still, when the alarm sounds in the middle of the night, my instinct is to say a prayer for all those that are helping or are needing help then roll over and go back to sleep. 1:30 Monday morning, that was almost what happened. The alarm had stopped before I realized that “Oh shoot! That’s US! And I ran down the stairs for the pager to see what was happening.
STRUCTURE FIRE! Well, sometimes a passerby sees flames that are in a burnpit that’s close to the house and panics. Maybe that’s all it is. Quickly that theory was dispelled by listening to the radio traffic. THIS WAS REAL! THIS WAS BAD!
Still, you have the facts. You know the address and it’s a fire. You know people are injured but you don’t know how badly. You don’t know whose house it is. You don’t know how many of your firefighters are making the call. You don’t know if you are going to be able to get water once you get there.
Being in the Auxiliary and not needed at the scene right away I had the luxury of being able to get dressed, let Bailey out, and pull myself together for whatever lay ahead. Not so for the Firefighters and EMS personnel. They jumped out of their warm beds, threw on whatever and raced to the station to don their gear, load up and rush into the face of danger. I could barely operate the coffee pot at the hall an hour after the tones went out, but these folks were on the scene and actively trying to fight this massive fire within just a few minutes.
We packed up the coolers and headed to the scene with drinks and snacks for all about an hour into the event, then served breakfast at about 6. There were so many people there. We are lucky to have such great mutual aid companies that came in to help. We had assistance from East Durham Fire, Freehold Fire, Greenville Fire and Greenville Rescue Squad, Medusa Fire, Medway-Grapeville Fire, Rensselaerville Fire, Westerlo Rescue Squad, Albany County Fire Investigators, Paramedics and Sheriffs. The scene remained active for over 12 hours. It was amazing to see everyone work together.
The home belongs long-time residents of Westerlo. All were treated at the scene, transported to Albany Med and then transferred to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse for their burns and breathing problems. Please say a prayer for them that they recover quickly and fully.
The family has great neighbors. The family got into their car and drove down the street to a neighbors house in the middle of the night, banged on their door and asked them to call 911. They waited there for help to arrive. Another neighbor found their St. Bernard and one is caring for him while his family is away. Many people stopped by to see what they could be doing to help the family and a fund has been set up at the National Bank of Coxsackie to assist them.
There is one group of unsung heroes that I don’t often see recognized. Thank you to all the employers who graciously allow your staff to leave during work hours or take time off to help their neighbors. We had a number of people who went in to work late or never made it at all because of the fire. We are so fortunate here in Westerlo with Hannay Reels being here. We have always had a number of members that work there and they have been wonderful in supporting our efforts. I am so grateful for them and for all the employers who understand the need for these volunteers in our community.
I am so proud of our Fire Company and want to thank you for a job well done. I am so glad that you all returned home safely. Thank you to all our mutual aid companies that came to our scene and those that may have been on standby for those companies. Oh, and thank you to Albany County Fire Control for being so calm and organized. I don’t know who was on yesterday but he pretty much rocks in my book.
For all those who are not in the Fire/EMS business, please take a moment to thank a First Responder when you can.
And don’t forget that its EMS Week!
If you are unable to attend the services today for Lieutenant DeVoe you can watch via the following link. abc27 I’m not sure of how much of the procession, etc. they will be covering but they will cover the Noon service.
I can’t be in Harrisburg today but I am with the Brotherhood and Fire Wife Sisterhood in Spirit.
Last night the Brotherhood lost one of their own. Lt. Dennis DeVoe was loved by many, but none loved him as much as his wife Amy and their children. This week the Brotherhood lost other members. Captain Bill Dowling from Houston and others answered their final alarm. While I prayed for those families, for their Brothers, I never felt the grief that I did last night when Harrisburg issued their formal statement.
I’ve never had a personal connection with a loss until last night. I never met Denny, but I met, love and will forever call her Sister, his beautiful wife Amy. Her smile lights up a room and a heart.
I met Amy through the Firefighter Wife Sisterhood, the wives part of 24/7 Commitment. I’ve written about the Sisterhood, the impact it has had on my life and my marriage. I’ve written about the fact I know the Sisterhood will have my back if anything ever happens to my husband. My heart knows this, my head knows this. My heart hoped it would never happen to one of our own. Yesterday, the group of Fire Wives that attended the Girls Getaway in Windham messaged, loved and prayed. We banded together as Fire Wives need to when one of our own is hurting. Our arms surrounded her from miles away hoping that she felt our love and strength.
Yesterday, last night and this morning reminds me that the Sisterhood is the backbone behind the Brotherhood. There is no tougher job in the Fire Service, than that of the Fire Wife. Together we unite to hold one of our own so that she can find the strength to carry on.
Amy, you are loved, you are supported, you will forever be in my heart and on my mind. My Sisters, your strength, your love and your grief have showed the Commitment we have to our own through all that the Fire Service throws at us.
That topic we’re not supposed to talk about. No one wants to label it, it’s taboo. PTSD. We all know about it but we bury our heads in the sand hoping it will go away. It doesn’t. My husband won’t talk about it. He won’t allow me to talk about it. It’s taboo. It doesn’t happen to First Responders. It doesn’t have an impact on our home lives. We are strong, we can handle the emotions that flood us after those bad calls.
Well, this wife is here to say it does exist in First Responders, it does need to be talked about, there is help. I won’t share my Husband’s journey. We agreed when I started this blog that I wouldn’t talk about THAT call. I respect that and hope that someday he’ll be willing to write about his journey. My heart tells me it’s a journey, that if told, will help others realize it’s OK to talk about it. It’s OK to reach out when you need to. They need to know that the topic is no longer taboo. It’s OK to get help. As one of our Chief’s, one of our Leaders, I believe this is important for him to do. Last night was a good first step (I’ll discuss that in a bit).
So for now, I’ll write about my journey through my Husband’s memories of April 2007 and how those memories impacted my life.
I remember the night like it was yesterday. I remember making sandwiches with the Auxiliary. I remember the phone call from the station with my husband on the other end telling me he was OK. I remember that huge sense of relief when I heard his voice. I remember him walking into the fire hall after he had been released from re-hab. I remember other firefighters telling me he was going to need me. He was going to need me to listen, to be there. I remember thinking, “I got this. I’m his wife.” Of course I’m going to be there, of course I’m going to listen. I’m going to be his soft place to land. If I only knew then what I know now the next year would have been dramatically different.
That night was a life changer for us. That was the beginning of sleepless nights, it was the beginning of a lot of frustration, anger: on my part, not on his. I remember waking to the sound of him being awake, laying there wondering why he couldn’t fall back to sleep, angry that the talk radio he had on was keeping me awake. I remember thinking, “If I just hold him he will go back to sleep. That will be the calm that he needs.” I remember being angry that I wasn’t able to be that calm. My holding him didn’t work. I was supposed to be his soft place. Why wasn’t that soft place his place of peace?
Instead of peace, I laid awake listening. Listening for the sounds that showed he had drifted back to sleep. That he was no longer lying quietly hoping I would drift back into sleep. That he was no longer listening to the radio hoping it would drown out the thoughts, images that were going through his mind. Hoping that the radio would help calm the pounding of his heart so that he could sleep peacefully again.
The drawers that he had been able to keep shut through most of his fire career were no longer shut. The memories tumbled out like rumpled laundry, not properly stored, no longer neat, no longer contained. Those memories floated through our marriage, not just his mind. I could feel them. I could feel them tense his muscles, they blocked the softness that, I as his wife, should provide. They prevented me from helping. They prevented me from being that soft place to land. They kept me awake, as they kept him awake.
I couldn’t fix it. I was angry that I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t neatly fold those memories and place them back in the drawers, safely tucked away. Tucked away where they wouldn’t become nightmares in sleep. Where they wouldn’t refocus his thoughts to a place he didn’t want to go. To a place that took him away from us.
I couldn’t fix the physical symptoms. The tenseness, the rapid heart beat. I couldn’t fix any of it. And that made me angry. I was mad at the fire service. If he hadn’t been a firefighter on that rainy day in April, he wouldn’t have these memories invading his dreams, invading my dreams. I was mad at him because he couldn’t fix it. Just stop thinking about it. Why can’t you just think about something else and turn it off? Why?
I was angry that he wouldn’t talk about the memories keeping him awake. He laid there. No words, no communication, just a log in our bed. I wondered, “if he would just talk, would it make it better?”
I’m not sure what turned the memories off. I’m not sure if they are turned off. 10 years later and I, his wife, am not sure if they keep him awake any longer. I do know the sleepless nights have lessened. I do know he still wakes in the middle of the night, turns on the radio and lies there quietly, trying not to disturb me. I also know that happens to all of us occasionally, that it’s a normal part of life. I pray it’s not those memories coming unfolded. Tumbling out of the drawers he has been able to stuff them back in to. Hopefully for good.
I feel he has been able to store them. The physical symptoms are gone. I pray the emotional ones are as well. I wonder what will be the next trigger that opens those drawers and unfolds the neatly folded memories that we have so carefully stored away in the drawers of his mind.
I believe we as a couple, and as firefighters, took a step last night towards admitting that PTSD exists for First Responders. We attended an amazing seminar on Traumatic Stress: The Responder and the Family. The speaker taught from the heart. He has been down the same road. He stepped out of the box and is there to tell those who will listen that there is help, it’s OK to admit there is a problem, to reach out. When he was done, there was not a sound in the room. It was quiet. A room of Fire Service personnel who realized the step they had all taken.
Last night, as I sat next to my husband, I could feel that body language change. I felt him silently say he’s been there, I felt him admit to a room of Brother’s and Sister’s that this is a problem in the fire service. That it needs to be discussed. That we need to be open to each other, we need to listen. We can no longer continue sticking our heads in the sand……pretending.
It’s so hard to keep those drawers shut in their minds. When they open, it’s like all of those images come tumbling out and they can’t process them. They float through their brain like nightmares from the past. It’s moments like that when I roll over and hold him a little tighter. I can feel those memories. They tighten the body, they quiet the thoughts and block the gentleness. It’s those moments when they are least loveable, that they need us the most.
A new blog post will be coming shortly that will discuss my journey through my husband’s memories. It’s inspired by an amazing training seminar we took last night.
Never Forget….. Today we will remember the 343 and the thousands of others who lost their lives fifteen years ago.
Today I will also honor the men and women who I trust to have my husband’s back at every call he responds to. It’s my way of saying Thank You for what they do for our community, our family and the Brotherhood.
May we never forget the victims of 9/11/01. But instead of looking on the day with sorrow (yes, I cried today) let each and every one of us use those emotions to help in some way. I believe in my heart that is what the 343, the Police Officers, etc. Would want us to do. I believe they look down on us from Heaven and say, “Thank you for remembering us. Thank you for taking care of our loved ones. But do not shed tears for us. Instead do what we have done before you and give to your community.”
9/11 took on a new meaning for me when my husband joined the fire service and I became a Fire Wife. I must admit, I hated the fire service, I hated the calls, the pagers, the radios, etc. It was one more thing that took my husband away from our home, our family and me. 9/11 also meant it was one more thing that may keep him from us forever. The Sisterhood has changed that for me. I still worry, I’m a wife and mother, it’s my job. But now I recognize the deeper meaning of the Fire Service. I recognize that my husband has chosen a calling that few choose. One that puts his life on the line each time his pager goes off. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for another”. I have a deeper understanding of that phrase. I know the Brotherhood has his back and I know the Sisterhood has mine. Should something ever happen I know I will feel the love and support from my Sisters across the country. I will feel them being Firestrong for me when I can’t be for myself.
When you go to sleep tonight say a brief prayer, have a brief thought for the victims of 9/11, the 343, the members of the Brotherhood who today continue to put their life on the line for you.
Love Me, Fire Wife