We’re not quite at the point where we’re ready to talk about the actual wedding just yet. There’s still some things that have to be covered first (but we’re getting closer…lol)When Mike started dating me he also got thrown into my family head first. Thankfully he was a “family guy” – being raised by his mother and grandmother definitely had it advantages. He didn’t mind spending time at home with my parents and my sister – letting them get to know him and vice-versa. There were many Sunday BBQ’s and lots of outings for the two of us which included my little sister who is 4 years younger than me.
My Dad is an electrician by trade and also worked in carpentry for many years. There was nothing he couldn’t build or fix. We never had to “call someone” when something broke or something needed to be built. Dad did it, Dad always did it. It was something we always took for granted. My Daddy knew everything. Mike started doing some small jobs with my Dad during the weekends and when he wasn’t working. Dad taught him a lot about wiring houses and general carpentry and he turned Mike into the best cement-mixer in the world! This was one area where growing up without a male role model may have put Mike somewhat behind the 8 Ball (which is not always a bad thing). Mike just wasn’t really a hand’s-on type guy. I often tease him and call him Tim The Tool Man! Now don’t get me wrong – he can cook up a storm, takes great care of the house, does laundry, and windows and is one of the most sensitive guys I know. However, in my family, I was more used to the guys doing all the more stereo-typical “man things” – building houses, doing renovations, electrical, plumbing, woodwork, you name it. It took a while for me to realize that Mike just didn’t learn all these things and that there were different things he excelled at. (Sometimes, I still have to remind myself of this.)
There was another thing that all the male members of my family did – a family tradition if you will. They were all members of our community’s volunteer fire department. Being in a firefighter’s family was something I had known my entire life. Dad could be in the middle of supper, we could be on our way out the door, he could be sound asleep in the middle of the night. It could happen at any time. When the fire alarm rang, he was off life a shot. My uncles and my cousins (when they became of age) rounded out a group of dedicated individuals who would enter burning buildings without a second thought. Mike quickly became accustomed to hearing the pager go off and getting out of the way – fast. (He also learned in a hurry not to park his car behind Dad’s in our driveway!)
Mike started to develop a real friendship with one of my cousins who was a member of the department and found himself spending quite a bit of time with him at the fire station. He enjoyed hearing the stories and meeting some of the other firefighters. He was considering applying to become a member of the department after we were married. Even though he spent the majority of his time before we were married at my house, he had to be a permanent resident of the area before he was able to join. As it stood now, he lived 25 minutes away, and when the pager rang, time was of the essence. I could tell that Mike would get as much of an adrenalin rush as the other guys would when the tones went off for a call, so you can only imagine his surprise the night Dad looked at him and said, “Well, are you just gonna sit there, or are you coming?” I don’t think I ever saw him move as fast.
After that night, Dad really took Mike under his wing. During evenings that I was working, Dad would be down at the fire station with Mike showing him equipment, teaching him everything he needed to know about firefighting. Dad became a mentor. Mike became a sponge – he absorbed it all. I don’t know who I was more excited for. Dad had two daughters and it was nice for him to be able to share this part of his life with his soon to be son-in-law. It was also nice to see Mike and Dad bonding. Family is so important to me, and after everything I went through with the “other fella” it was great to see my Dad spending time with the man in my life.
Mike became absorbed in the life of a firefighter. He wanted to know everything there was to know about fighting fires and the equipment used to do so. He read anything he could get his hands on, he asked questions, he used the equipment. He caught on to procedures very quickly and soon became an “unofficial” member of the department. He lived, breathed, ate and slept the fire service and was quickly proving that he had a passion for this very important aspect of my family’s life. That made me happy.
Mike quickly taught me something about fire that I had never thought about before. I asked him one night after he was on scene at a structure fire (not actively participating as he was still not an official member) if he was nervous or scared. He told me that he wasn’t as much nervous or scared as he was respectful. If he let himself be scared he probably wouldn’t be able to do it. He explained that as long as he had a respect for the fire and knew more about the fire than it knew about itself, he’d be ok. It was like playing a game of chess. You had to anticipate what your opponents’ next move would be. This philosophy held true with fire. By learning what fire does, how fire acts and reacts, he could anticipate what it would do and like any good chess player, he thought four moves ahead of where he actually was. He started explaining to me how different materials react differently when they are burning and how different types of fires require different methods to extinguish them. I knew after this conversation that firefighting was going to be a way of life for my hubby-to-be. Mike embraced this new-found world and I couldn’t have been more proud.
To say that I was proud 100% of the time would be a lie. There were definitely times I wish Dad would have kept his big mouth shut that night and never asked Mike to go with him. Over the next few years (even after we were married) the fire department was the center of some very heated arguments between the two of us. I used to go ballistic. I knew he loved it and I knew that he had lots he had to learn, but I also knew I wasn’t fond of the copious amount of time he was spending just hanging around at the fire station. Why would he have to be there for 4 hours *after* the monthly meeting or training was over? Dad would have been home for hours and Mike was still gone. What could he possibly be doing? Talking and having a beer(s) with the guys. Oh, ok then, I’ll just sit here while you’re out having a grand ol’ time with the boys. I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get that Mike had been (these are his words – not mine) a loner for most of his life and now he was introduced to a group of people he enjoyed having something in common with. He was doing something that he did very little of as he was growing up – just hanging out, being part of a group. I didn’t get that for a long, long time. I know that was most of it and yes, another part of it too was it was an infatuation to an extent, and I’d be again lying if I said I didn’t hope that the novelty of this all wore off very soon. Fortunately and unfortunately I still don’t think the novelty has worn off. Let me explain – I have to jump around a bit here and bring us up to present day, but bear with me.
As the years passed and Mike became more experienced with firefighting, he quickly realized this was more than a passion. This was a desire, this was a dream, this was a career. Being a firefighter was something he wanted to dedicate his life to – so he set the wheels in motion. As a former radio announcer (more on this later) and a 5-year member of the fire service, Mike decided to apply for a job as a 911 dispatcher. He knew this would be a job he would love and it would get his foot in the door with the municipality. When job postings would come up for “paid” firefighters, he would be able to apply as an inside worker. After months of testing and security clearances and police checks he was hired on as a casual 911 operator. The money wasn’t bad, but the lack of benefits and the irregularity of being called for work was discouraging.
Over the next five years he worked hard at 911, learned a lot more about the fire service and police service and became a top-notch dispatcher. When he had police or fire out on a call, the guys out in the field never had to worry about misinformation or lack of communication. It was that whole game of chess thing again. Mike was always 4 steps ahead of the game. He was very well respected by his coworkers and made quite a name for himself in the field of emergency service’s communication.
At the same time he continued to grow with the volunteer fire department. He worked his way through years of training and many many fires to find himself named Firefighter of the Year only 2 years after he joined the department. Over the next couple of years he was promoted to Lieutenant and was assigned as co-training officer. He also stepped up and became the department’s secretary finding himself learning another side of the service. Now he was instrumental in the behind-the-scenes running of the department.
Unfortunately, there were some internal problems that saw the chain of command undergo a restructuring. The morale of the firefighters had fallen completely off the radar and something had to be done to get the department back to the respectful community organization it once was. During the course of the restructuring, hubby was promoted to Captain and a group of men on a mission set out to turn their fire department around. It took a couple of years and a lot of hard work and dedication and many many hours away from home but the end results was once again a group of committed volunteers who made the community (and their families) very proud.
Eventually, the opportunity arose for Mike to apply for a position as a full-time firefighter. He had to go through various tests (physical and written) along with an extensive interview process. In September of 2000, Mike’s dreams of making firefighting his career came true. He was elated and our families were thrilled. It had been a long, hard number of years financially (you find out why later) and now we just might be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
So to say that Michael devotes himself 100% to the fire service is an understatement. He goes “to work” and fights fires and he is still a member of our communities volunteer department. It’s a 24/7 passion – and it has to be a passion for a commitment like that.
Since the horrors that unfolded on September 11, 2001, the world of firefighting has been seen in a different light. Something that my family and I have known and respected our entire life was now being talked about by people all over our globe. These men and woman who leave their families and their homes to serve and protect other people’s families, homes and livelihoods have been called “Heroes”, although you would never hear them refer to themselves in this way.
The next time you hear a siren or see a fire truck going down the road, take an instant to think, to appreciate and to respect what these people are doing. And please, think about the families of these firefighters who are sitting at home, hoping and praying that their loved-ones will return home to them – safely.
Until next time…