Mike and I were married almost 25 years ago.
Mike is celebrating a 25th anniversary this month of a different sort; equally, if not even more significant than the day we were married.
As Mike was introduced to my family so many years ago he was also introduced to another ‘family’. The fire service.
For as long as I can remember the fire service has been a part of my life. My father and many of my uncles were members of the Grand Lake Road Volunteer Fire Department. As years went by, my cousins grew up following in their fathers’ footsteps and began volunteering with the department. It was a family rite of passage for many.
As a young girl I fondly remember spending many a Saturday morning at the fire station with my dad. If he was on weekend duty, my sister and I would often join him to check the equipment, clean the station, perform small repairs that needed tending to, test the radios, and “count the trucks”. The station always bustled with activity and was definitely the hub of our small community.
Because Grand Lake Rd VFD was a volunteer department, much of the funding they required for new(er) equipment and gear had to be raised through fundraising efforts. There were many pancake breakfasts, coin card drives, dances, male fashion shows, ladder-a-thons, and events that saw the department partner with various businesses in the community to raise money such as a “Fill Up For Fire” Day that saw a local gas station donate part of the days profits to the department. Firefighters were on hand to pump gas and interact with members of their district. No task was too great when it came to fundraising. And their efforts were always well rewarded. Grand Lake Rd VFD had committed members and quality equipment. They trained often and hard and were well-educated.
When it became clear that Mike was going to be joining the family he started spending time at the fire hall with my father, uncles, cousins and other members of the department. He was drawn to the fire service immediately. Like a kid with a new toy, the fire service consumed him. He wanted to know all there was to know and had the most wonderful teachers.
Because he was not yet living in the district, Mike could not officially become a member of the department just yet but he could learn, observe and help. In April of 1991, 4 months before we were married, Mike attended his first call with my father as manpower was scarce that particular evening. There was no looking back from that point on.
He learned how to drive trucks, he learned how to pump water, he learned how to use the various equipment needed to fight fires. Every free minute he had was spent at the hall learning.
Once we were married and he was accepted as a member of the department he wore his new responsibilities proudly. Of course there was the adrenaline rush that often came with the pager going off, but that was something that he had to go through to learn. It was a rush. And I suspect it always will be, to a certain extent. As years went on, the adrenaline spike turned from rushing and being hyper to calculating and preplanning what was going to be necessary to successfully attack the call at hand.
In 1994, 3 years after joining the department, Mike’s efforts were recognized by seeing him named Firefighter of the Year, an honor that was given to a member who exemplified what it meant to be a firefighter. We were all very proud of him.
Over the years, Mike’s involvement in the department continued to grow. He was elected to the executive as secretary, a position he held for the majority of his time at Grand Lake Rd VFD. He was promoted to the rank of Captain and was also the department’s training officer. He had a way of teaching that drew the members in. He made them want to learn. He grew into a leader that was respected and valued.
Almost 10 years after Mike became a volunteer firefighter, he successfully applied for a job as a full time firefighter with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. From the ranks of Captain/Training Officer at his volunteer department, Mike put on a different colour helmet for his ‘job’ and once again found himself as a rookie. He started all over again but this time he took with him ten years of accumulated knowledge and experience.
Over the years he has been quick to jump at any training and courses that became available so he could continue to learn and grow and teach. As he celebrates his 25th year of service, I am so proud of the young man who has given endless hours to become the veteran firefighter he is today.
You see, it’s not ‘just a job’ or a ‘position’ or a ‘volunteer activity on a resume’ for Mike. It’s his calling. It’s his place in the world. He has so much to offer, so much to share and so much to be proud of. And now, 25 years later, he has his eldest son beside him as a member of the Albert Bridge Volunteer Fire department, teaching him the ropes and sharing knowledge as my dad did with Mike so many years ago. Truly full-circle.
Not only is he a good firefighter, he is a well-respected member of an elite group. He takes pride in his position and continually tries to impart his knowledge on other firefighters who are working their way through the ranks.
These men and women of our fire services, whether they do it as a volunteer position or as a way to provide a living for their families, run towards danger as others run away. They meet people at the absolute worst moments of their lives. Firefighters witness many sights that no one should ever have to see. Anyone who willingly chooses this profession, on any level, deserves to be commended.
There is a camaraderie among firefighters like nothing I have ever seen before. They bond together as a family and no matter what, they take care of their own. To be involved (indirectly) with such a group makes me realize how unique all these individuals truly are.
As I publicly celebrate Mike’s 25th year of service, I still hold my breath as he walks out the door to respond to a call. I take comfort in knowing that he rides his trucks with the best of the best and that they all have each other’s back every minute of every day. I have to trust that one of his favorite quotes is always in the forefront of his and his fellow firefighter’s minds:
“Make sure when your shift is over, you go home alive. Here endeth the lesson.”
So Mikey, from this firefighter’s wife, I salute you. You do something I could never imagine, and you constantly work to improve yourself – even 25 years later. What you have done for so many people over the years (both strangers and fellow firefighters) is to be commended. Thank you seems so inadequate to say for what you continue to give.
As your wife, there is not much I can give but I’ll continue to say that even I ‘have your back’ when the hoses are all put away and the trucks are parked back in the barn at the end of the day. I’m here for you just like you’re always there for everyone else.
I love you, I’m proud of you and I am so honored to be your wife ~ a firefighter’s wife. Happy 25th, Hilliard.
“Life is not tried, it is merely survived, if you’re standing outside the fire.” ~Garth Brooks