Being a firefighter is far more than suiting up in bunker gear, sliding down poles, and riding in a shiny red truck with a Dalmatian at your side. As is the life of a firefighter’s significant other. When girls think firefighter, they daydream of a young muscular guy in turnout trousers, boots, suspenders, and a helmet. But the reality of it all is that behind a firefighter must stand a strong girlfriend, wife, or family.
There are close to 1.2 million firefighters working in the US right now (as reported by firerescue1.com). Sixty-nine percent of these are volunteers, the rest have made firefighting their career. Regardless, these men and women are backed by strong significant others, and families too. Sure it’s appealing to date or even marry a man that is brave and strong and does a job like firefighting? But do you really know just how dangerous firefighting can be, and often is? Let me give you just the basics of what a firefighters daily life looks like.
First of all, he could be pulling shifts anywhere from 1 to 3 days long. He’ll eat, sleep, and work in the fire station. This usually means 50+ hours a week, but with 24 hours on/48 hours off shifts, this can put stress on the home/family life. This includes missing holidays, the kid’s school programs and games, and other family activities. His working conditions? The average house and vehicle fires burn at 1,600°F, whereas jet fuel fires burn at an average of 4,000°F. Long hours, with often little sleep, in extremely dangerous conditions, pretty well sums up what a firefighter can expect to see on a day to day basis and what a firefighter’s significant other has to be prepared to talk about and comfort, when he comes home.
The divorce rate in the average firehouse is usually close to 50%. As much as that may stress the new girlfriend, fiancé, wife, or family of a firefighter, it shouldn’t. The honest reason behind this (aside from the common, non-firefighting related reasons) is a lack of understanding of just what your firefighter goes through, and what he needs due to it. Although the rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in firefighter is far lower than that of most dangerous/stressful jobs (between 7-37% according to verywell.com), doesn’t mean that every firefighter hasn’t at one time suffered from a form of PTSD after a disconcerting call. Just as firefighters are on call 24/7 to save someone, a firefighter’s significant other is on call to save his/her/their firefighter from work-related stress. The key to preventing a firefighter from developing PTSD is providing a support system, between both his department and family.
Being the girlfriend of a Department of Defense/Army firefighter, I can attest to all of the above! Dating a Military Firefighter is even more stressful. National Guard, for example, can be called by their state’s governor, at any time, to go with his unit and fight forest fires in their state or even another! Also, always looming in the air, no matter which branch your significant other serves under, if they’re military as well, is the impending prospect of deployment.
So next time you daydream of that calendar image firefighter, just remember what really goes on “behind the scenes” and that it takes being just as strong for your firefighter, as it takes him to save lives. Imagine March’s model, coming through the front door, his face blackened with soot and ash, and the smell of smoke lingering in his clothes, after a 24-hour shift, telling you the story of a fire that they just didn’t get to quite soon enough. If you have a firefighter in your life, hold him a little tighter and love him dearly. If you think you want one, make sure you know just what you’re getting yourself into!