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.
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.