Category Archives: Fire Family

Presidential Reflections on what we do. (She hacked me)

 

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!

We Stand with You

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.

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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.

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Firefighterwife.com : Why our Fire Families need it.

Evening Reflections on the Sisterhood

Heroes: A Chief’s Perspective

My husband had such a wonderful response to my Blog post that I decided to let him take over my blog for a bit.  Here goes.

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My Fire Wife talks about heroes in her post: Take, Take, Take.  Where’s the give?. Which I truly believe that the only heroic thing we do as firefighters is take the oath and staying committed to it. The rest is just part of the job. But as I sat in a meeting listening to talk about financing a program for my paid job as a CFO of a nonprofit, I could not help but feel a little like Clark Kent.

Let me explain, that morning I was at work. I was trying to complete a report that was due and I received a text that there was a structure fire in a neighboring district. I waited and listened as trucks rolled, then we were toned out for the confirmed structure fire. I told one other staff member that I was leaving and headed off, got to the scene, put on my bunkers and white helmet and went to work.

We did not save the house, but we put the fire out, no one was hurt, and some of the contents might be salvageable. Some 3 hours later, I took off the gear and went back to work. Just in time for this meeting. So I sat there and did my paid job as if nothing had happened and most of the people in the meeting did not even know I had left.

Hero? No. But as firefighters, paid or volunteer, we and our families live a different life than the rest of the world. Most of the time without them even knowing about it, unless it was their house we responded to. Maybe this is part of the reason we may be seen as take, take, take. We don’t publish what we do when the rest of the world is going about their day. We just respond when one of them needs help and do our job.

Take, Take, Take. Where’s the Give

As a Fire Wife and Firefighter I’ve often asked myself what do we give back to our community?  After all, we hold breakfasts during the first three months of the year and ask for donations from attendees, we hold a calendar drive every fall, and ask for donations, we show up on your tax bill, etc.  It seems like we take a lot from our community.

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So the question becomes:  What do we give?  So I really got thinking about this.  And I have come to the conclusion we give our souls, our hearts, our family’s so that our community has heroes.  These heroes don’t wear capes, they don’t have super human powers, they don’t drive Batmobiles.  These heroes drive beat up pick-up trucks, cars and when they respond to our community’s needs, they come in big red trucks with flashing lights and sirens.   Ask anyone of these heroes and they’ll deny the title.  They are just average men and women giving back to their communities.

These needs are many, some aren’t true emergencies but each one is treated the same.  It is treated with the professionalism of the Brotherhood.  The Brotherhood that for hundreds of years, from St. Florian through to our heroes in bunkers and SCBA’s, has been giving their lives to fulfill a calling most run from.

And yet we continue to give.  From the cat in the tree (yes, that really happens, and yes the big red trucks respond), to the school bus stuck across the road (yes, that really happened just this morning) we are there.  We are there 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Giving of ourselves, our time away from our children, our spouses, our families.  We miss plays with our kids, birthday parties, holiday dinners.  Why?  Because we were called to give.

We were called to give peace to a family that lost someone in a flooded stream.  We were called to give our time, while our own homes suffered during Hurricane Irene.  We fought 2 structure fires that weekend.  Not to mention the countless man hours spent manning the station and the phones as we created a call list to respond to.

We are called at 2:00 am by a passerby who sees a vehicle off the road.  We give hours of our time at the scene while we need to be in training at 8am that same morning.  We are called to extricate someone from their vehicle using the equipment on those big red trucks, while our “capes” protect our bodies.

Maybe some don’t think that is enough giving.  Those are minor right?  Those minor things add up.  Our department gives the following on an average  year (these are MINIMUM hours):

Total Volunteer Man Hours (meetings, drills and calls ONLY):  2,300 hours

Average # of Volunteer Man Hours per Active Member (meetings, drills and calls ONLY): 110

# of hours it takes to be granted those “capes” and carry that hose line into a burning home: 168

These hours do not include the numerous training hours we complete each year to be on top of our game.  The best we can be.  These hours only show what we give, on a volunteer basis, to keep our community safe, to protect property and lives.

So…., they’re only hours.  Right?  They are hours spent away from our children.  Those children who look at us with tears in our eyes and ask:  Does Daddy really have to leave for that car accident?  Yes, he does.  Someone needs him.  But Mommy, what about the play we are going to see with our friends?  How will we get there?  Please Mommy?  Does he really have to go?  Can’t he skip just this one call?  Those are the hours that we give.  We give hours of our children’s lives because others need us.  We give hours of our families lives because other’s need us.  We give hours of our own lives to train, to be the best we can possibly be so that when our community needs us we can do our job with professionalism.

That’s a Firefighters perspective.  What about a Fire Wife’s perspective?  My husband took Firefighter I when our twins were 6 months old.  I was single mother of 2 while he trained, studied and attended class.  A single mother of 2 little bodies that could do nothing for themselves.  I was the wife who gave hours of her night when her husband couldn’t sleep because of the visions in his head of that one bad run, that to this day, still lingers in our home.  I was the wife that fought each step of his trip up that ladder to those white helmets because I knew the hours it would take him away from us.  The hours he would spend at the station because he now wore a white hat and all of the responsibility that came along with it.  I’m the wife that takes our kids to functions because those tones went off, just as we were about to walk out the door to go to a birthday party.  I’m that wife that needs to explain to the parents of the other child why we have to leave the party in a rush, because, again, those tones have no sense of timing.  Emergencies occur when they need to, not when it is convenient for us.

So the next time the thought crosses my mind of do we just take, what do we give?  I’ll remind myself, we give our lives.  We volunteer so that others can have heroes.

One of my first blogs was my story and how I got to be a Fire Wife. And how much I HATED being a Fire Wife. Not really being a Fire WIFE, just hating the fire service.  Thankfully, with the help of a great group of women, an amazing leader (Lori Mercer) and some inner reflection, I grew to love my husband’s other love: the Fire Service.

Fast forward a few years to the summer of 2014.  In August of 2014 I remember being at the station and asking our Chief if I could have a brief conversation with him. I had decided to take Scene Support Operations (intro level course to being certifiable). Our Chief was an instructor and I wanted to take the class with him. It just so happened…… he was teaching it in September at a neighboring District. Well…. I wasn’t getting out of it now.  I look back and ask myself, “What was I thinking?”

I was issued bunkers, gloves, helmet (it’s red, not black, but it’s a helmet) and any other piece of PPE that would keep me safe at an incident. Thank God Andy was on board with this. That Fire Wife: yeah, she made her husband (Assistant Chief) take the intro level class with her. That’s right, an Assistant Chief in a class for probies. Actually, I didn’t make him take it. He offered as soon as he knew it was what I really wanted to do. I wanted to do it for so many reasons: personal satisfaction, the drive to succeed, the need to help others.

At the same time I decided to take Scene Support Operations, one of our Jr. members was taking Firefighter I. This was the perfect training opportunity for both of us. We drilled on ladders, knots, Donning and Doffing. He helped me more than I helped him but it was great having someone working on some of the same skills as I was at the same time. Then, another Jr. Firefighter decided she was going to take Scene Support Operations with me. She drilled with us.  We worked at the skills we would need to pass our practical exam.  Now the Chief calls us the Bobbsey Twins.  I enjoy teaming up with Chris and Sarah.  Together we strive to improve our skills, learn as much as we can and be a helpful part of an awesome team.

That's me at the top of that ladder!

That’s me at the top of that ladder!

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The class was 2 nights a week for 2 weeks and 1 all day Saturday.  I have to say the classroom part was not nearly as exciting (sorry Chief) as the hands on.  The practical (an all day Saturday event) was awesome.  I learned so much from our Instructors.  I learned I can do a leg lock on a ladder (now that’s just crazy in today’s world with harnesses, but I learned how to do it), I learned more about an SCBA then I had learned training with Chris.  I learned how to pack hose, I learned how to use a fire extinguisher (that probably sounds odd but there is a special way to do it).  My personal best, walking on the roof of a building.  I was scared of heights (still not my most favorite thing) but now I know I can conquer that and climb the ladder to the roof.  But best of all, I was able to get on a hose line.  That won my heart.  Having the feeling of that charged line in your hand, knowing you have an awesome person behind you.  That was the icing on the cake.  Those are the moments I realized I had made the right decision and that I could do this.

Well, my brain said I could do this.  My body said, “What in the good Lord’s name are you doing girl?  You are 40 years old.  You do this crap when you are 25-30 not 40.  Your knees can’t take the pain you are inflicting on them.  Stop this girl before you hurt yourself.”  I laughed at my body and said, “this is my  goal, you are not getting in my way.”  But I can say Scene Support kicked my butt in a good way.  I’ve continued to get healthier by losing weight and becoming committed to a healthy body.

I accomplished my goal.  I got my certificate.  So did Sarah.  I’m proud of the hard work she put into that class.  She worked her butt off.  Chris he passed Firefighter I.  The smile on his face when my firefighter handed him his certificate and black helmet will never be forgotten.  We all earned those certs.

My training partner.

My training partner.

I DID IT!

I DID IT!

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So…. yeah me!!!  I was certifiably a Firefighter now.  One small teensy problem.  Andy and I never discussed how we would handle this new aspect of our relationship.   Remember that Type A personality thing I mentioned before?  How well do you think I like taking orders?  Yeah…. not so much.   Add to that those orders are coming from my husband no less.  Well….. we were right back to the screaming matches.  At least we kept it at home and not at incidents.  This was a whole new level in our marriage.  I think we have come to a mutual agreement.  It’s still hard for me to remember that at the Station or at an incident, he’s my (gulp) Superior Officer.  NOT my husband.  That’s difficult.  But I think we are getting better at it.  He’s a great training partner.  I enjoy our cardio walks and work out sessions.  He pushes me to be the best that I can.

Love of My Life.  He's now officially, MY Assistant Chief.

Love of My Life. He’s now officially, MY Assistant Chief.

 

Firefighterwife.com : Why our Fire Families need it.

On Monday, June 2, 2014 I had the opportunity to speak to the Knox Fire District about why each wife, girlfriend or fiancé of a Firefighter needs http://www.firefighterwife.com.  Watch the attached video for my heart felt thoughts on this amazing group.

This group of women led by our Chief Fire Wife Lori Mercer and our Admins has changed my life over the past year.  They’ve changed my marriage.  I have only met one other member of the Sisterhood, yet I consider each one of them my lifelong friend.

The Sisterhood has laughed with me, cried with me, prayed with me and for me.  They have listened to my hopes and lifted me up.  They have listened to my fears and calmed me.  Most importantly they have helped me to become a better Wife, Mother, and person.  Through blogs, online workshops, Flame Fest and more Firefighter Wife continues its mission to strengthen Fire Marriages and families.

Soon to come:  Firefighter Wife and the National Volunteer Fire Council teamed up to create the Volunteer Family Guide.  I can’t wait to show you all the Volunteer Fire Family featured on the cover.

 

20140420_18045722 years ago today this handsome man kissed me.  That was before a first date.  It was before asking me to go on a date with him.  God knew just what he was doing.

He wasn’t a Firefighter then.  As far as I knew he had no calling to be one.  He was simply Andy.

Today he is the love of my life, my soul mate, the father of my 2 beautiful children.

He is also Assistant Chief of our Fire Company and my hero.

Thank you Andy for 22 wonderful years.  May God grant us at least 22 more.  I love you more than I could ever say.