Last month I shared 2 Things I Wish People Understood About Being Married to a Firefighter. This month I am sharing a series of posts on life as a firefighter family – beginning with the basics. I hope to help others understand how public safety jobs impact family life. So, here are a few thoughts:
- My husband works a 24 hour shift every 3 days at his main job as a firefighter/paramedic. The shift begins at 8:00 a.m. and (in theory) ends at 8:00 a.m. the following day.
- Our family is very flexible with plans. Just because he is supposed to finish work at 8:00 a.m. doesn’t mean that actually happens. Late calls or having to cover for another firefighter means he could easily not arrive home until late morning.
- He regularly works on weekends and holidays. The “every three days” schedule means he regularly has a shift on weekends. Often after I explain my husband’s schedule people ask, “Does he ever have to work on weekends?” Every…three…days. Weekends and holidays are not exempt. It is definitely a learning curve when you have to juggle multiple children and activities as the solo parent. We have learned to celebrate birthdays and holidays when we can. It makes us very, very grateful when we are together for a special day.
- Even when people do understand that a 24 hour shift means 24 hours they often assume, “Yeah, but he sleeps all night, right?” Working a 24 hour shift does not mean you sleep all night. In fact, sleeping is minimal on many shifts. Even when he does manage to sleep more than a few hours, it is not quality sleep since he’s listening for calls. This means that the nights he is home we make it a priority to go to bed on time – or early. I’ll never forget my father-in-law calling one night around 8:30. “You sound like you’re asleep!” My husband had an exceptionally long shift the night before and yes, we were in bed by 8:15 that night (this is definitely the exception – not the rule). Making sure he is able to sleep well when he is home helps reduce the fatigue and irritability he feels after a late shift night.
- Constantly dealing with challenging scenarios is second-nature but does impact firefighters You can’t unsee things. You still have to process. It’s sometimes assumed, “He’s used to it…” And he is. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Many times firefighters feel a lack of connection with family or need extra time to process something that happened at work. Giving him the space he needs yet finding ways to encourage him can be a challenge and one I am still learning.
I hope this will help people understand a little more of what it’s like to be a fire family and some of the unique lifestyle challenges we experience. Being a fire family means our entire family is, in a sense, “in the fire service.” Even though we may find the schedule challenging at times, we are thankful for the opportunity to invest in our community.