2017 A year in the life of a CALFIRE wife

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A year in the life of a CALFIRE wife. My husband and I spent 256 days apart in 2017. This has been the hardest year to date. This has also been one of the best years too and we have so much to be thankful for.

firewife8Sometimes people think that a firefighters station is just in town and their families get to go visit and eat dinner at the fire station when they are on shift. This is true for many fire families. But for thousands of others, their firefighter works too far away to visit.

My husband works a 72 hour shift every week and he goes in the night before because we chose to live 8 hours away in Idaho for a better quality of life. He is gone 4 nights and home for 3. This is a tough schedule. But I have something to tell you, it was WAY tougher than you can imagine. In 2017, because of trainings, horrible fires and having to go in the night before, my husband slept either at a fire station, hotel, or in his Engine 249 days of the year. He also went on a successful Elk hunt. And that left 109 days in 2017 that he slept under the same roof as me and the kids. That is Less than 1/3 of a year. This number really saddens me.

I can’t tell you how hard it has been on him because that would be for him to share, but for the first time in our marriage I can see it on his face that he is exhausted and burnt out. He just missed out on the first year of his son’s life and almost all of our daughters “terrific 3’s.” He missed the ups and downs of our fast growing children. Next time you see a firefighter, know that they don’t just risk their lives for the lives of strangers. They also sacrifice being present with their families.   Everyday, our daughter says “I really miss Daddy, will he be home tonight?” And just about everyday I say “Me too. Not tonight, but hopefully soon honey.” We don’t ever know when he will be home until he walks through the door.  We are so blessed that he has walked though the door after every shift.

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Photo by Capt. James Allen

I don’t remember fire season being the whole year. Was there always so many large fires where the firefighters are held on shift? Did they always spend that many days away from their station? Does it just seem different because we have children now? How do they even stay healthy when they have to eat a sugar loaded sack lunch, restaurant food and base camp food for a month straight? He never once complained by the way. I just know that in previous years he was able to cook healthy meals and establish a regular fitness routine when he was actually at his fire station. I’m almost positive he blacked out July, August, October, and worked 19 days straight in December coming home just before Christmas. (Thank you for all your prayers to have him home.)

Communication is the foundation of every relationship. A great portion of our communication is a few daily text messages and occasional FaceTime chats. Some days we get to FaceTime “daddy” before bed, other days the only 10 minutes he has available to call happens to be in the middle of a double child meltdown while I’m trying to cook dinner and I answer “I’m sorry, but this is a really bad time, we can’t chat now. We love you.” There have been week stretches when my husband is on a strike team working 36 hr shifts with 12 hours off at a hotel. That means we are lucky if we even get an “I’m ok” or “I love you and call u sometime tomorrow” text message. Often the phone call is after the kids are in bed and they don’t get to hear his voice.

When we finally get to chat it is usually 9pm. I’m emotionally exhausted from being a mom of 2 and he’s physically AND mentally exhausted from fighting fires and running calls. Our conversation is short and mostly about the kids, finances, his work, the home (dog missing, chicken dying, well pump breaking, broken sprinklers, you know-all that fun stuff that comes with owning a home and big yard!)

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We made a link with a note each of the 42 days he was gone.

When he comes home after anywhere from a 4-42 day stretch, our routine is thrown off and the kids struggle with this. They miss him and my daughter is so excited for him to be home, but she then refuses to let him read to her, cook for her, or basically anything for at least a day if not 2. I struggle because I do everything myself when he is away and he is very helpful at home and I quickly get used to having help. It’s very hard for me mentally when he leaves for work, I have to remind myself that I can do it all by myself again. Even just a few days of him home really throws the kids and I off. It is so nice to have someone else go out with a flashlight in the pitch black to shut the gates, count the chickens, or see what the dogs are barking at. To have him kill the spider or wasp in the house, to check the basement, porch and every closet in the house because you heard a weird noise right when you crawled in bed and to watch the baby monitor so you can shower without getting out with soapy hair to sooth a crying baby.

This year our daughter turned 3, our son 1 and we celebrated 6 years of marriage. We made so many great memories, spent a week at a cabin in McCall, ID, a week under the stars in the Sawtooths and a few days here and there as a family. We survived a brutal first winter and I shoveled snow for the first time in my life while wearing a newborn and entertaining a toddler. I drove the kids in ice and snow, got stuck in ice and snow, adopted a kitten, went to the fair, went to the ER, the zoo, the beach (river), parades, festivals, birthday parties, BBQs all alone with two beautiful kids stuck to me like glue. We missed him and he missed us. We love him more than anything and are very proud of him.  A few friends of mine have actually met my husband and I explain to them how lucky they are!

The kids and I continue to explore new places and enjoy our lovely home. We hope 2018 allows us to be a family in person, to grow and strengthen our relationships with each other that have weakened and to enjoy the everyday ups and downs TOGETHER. (Maybe even a date with my husband? We havent been alone without a child since March 2016).

Marriage is HARD. Raising little ones is HARD. Being a fire wife is HARD, but I think the hardest of all is asking for help. People often say “let me know if you need help.” That is a well intentioned statement, but taking them up on the offer is hard and often ends up me still having to call and ask for the help that was offered. I don’t want to call and ask for help at 10 pm. I don’t want to inconvenience anyone, so I don’t and I just always say “thank you, but we are doing alright.”

I intended to update my blog at least monthly and stay on topic with homemaker content. I have a dozen drafts saved on great topics, but I lack the energy and motivation to do them. I’m just exhausted. I thought you might be interested in knowing more about being a fire family and how it has really affected us this year.  Please be kind, I wrote this on my phone over the past 3 days. I could spend a few extra days editing, but I’ve got to go keep the kids and critters alive in these freezing temperatures!

Happy New Years!

Be Wild. Live Naturally. Love Genuinely.
The Homeacre

When he is home I try to take as many photos as I can of him and the kids.

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37 Comments

  • Lisa

    Wow I couldn’t have written it better myself. We are in a very similar boat. My girls are exactly the same as your children and I too been married to my firefighter 6 years. I think the only thing different is my husband only has an hour commute versus 8 and he was home a little bit more than yours. But those 10-16 straight days about killed us both. Also I work full time outside of the home so I’m not sure if you do or not but regardless it’s hard either way if you are home all day with kids or like me getting them ready dropping them off at two different locations and have to be to work by 8am. I understand every sentence you wrote. I love and breathe it too. So well stated. And not having support or help Makes it so much harder. Not to mention the battles between my 3 year old and daddy. She misses him but then hates him when he shows up. Earning the respect over and over is tough and on the kids for them being gone. I’m here to chat through exhausted texts in between comforting kids if you need.

  • Sara, San Bruno Fire Dept wife

    Here’s to a healthy, happy and wonderful 2018. Hang in there firemama and know you aren’t alone! My guy is a City fire guy, 2 hours from home. It’s tough no matter what! Stay #firestrong!

  • Lisa Cabri-Love

    Very well written blog…
    A true reflection of the CAL FIRE life….
    Having raised three kids in a CAL FIRE family my only regret is that we didn’t commit time to take a true family vacation each year to offset the long fire seasons that impacted time spent together as a family…. if you have the opportunity to put that in place each year at least you know there is a silver lining to their long absences…. having said that the younger your kids the easier it is to fit it in their schedules… the older they get sports schedules and other activities seem to run jnterferance…. my guess would be to jump start your summer school break with a family vacation knowing fire season is right around the corner…. 💞

    • thehomeacre

      Thank you. Yes, this was the first year we got to have vacaions because last year he was in an Engineers academy and we bought/sold house, relocated and had a baby which left no time. That was a tough year too!! I already planned on homeschooling for many reasons, but one being that whe would be able to drop everything when he gets home. The crazy thing is the amount of vacation days he has just banked, just had never been in a position to use them.

  • Karen

    Remember to take pics of you and kids too. And the whole family together. Not just him and kids. My mom always took the pics. So not as many pics of her as we would like.

  • RAchel

    Loved reading this. My hubby is LA
    county and works about 2 hours from us. He is usually home 10 nights a month, roughly 1/3 of the time. We have two young daughters. Some days are harder than others but we try to keep busy. Making friends who other fire wives who “get it” makes all the difference for me.

  • Chris Phillips

    As a retired cal
    Fire Captain, I sympathize with you and your family. I’ve been there… my wife was a single parent with a two parent income. Now that I’m home all the time, she’d probably give anything for me to go on a strike team!!lol…enjoy! 20
    Years goes by fast!!

    • Heidi Lopez

      I am married to a firefighter/Engineer that retired after 33 years with a city fire department. I thought after he retired he would relax…. well he now volunteers with our local fire department and he still goes out on calls, at least our kids are grown up. 🙂

    • Don

      It takes a special woman to be married to a CDF/Cal Fire man. You have to be tough. Selfish,needy flashy ghetto, loud mouthed,.crazy brittle chicks please dont marry a CalFire man.

  • Rachael

    Very well written, Our husbands work together (Justin) I’ve met your hubby a few times at the station and I hope you’ll get to have him home soon! I’ve heard a lot about you, Hopefully (if there’s ever any off time this season) we’ll all get to meet up! Sharing! ❤️👨🏻‍🚒

  • Ty

    I always appreciate learning more about this. I have friends with CALFIRE. I am military and have spent time away from my wife and kids. I never really ‘know’ what it’s like for her but I ‘understand’ what its like for her. I hope you get as much time as you can with your husband this year.

  • Melissa

    This is a great read, thank you for sharing. My husband is a city dept. firefighter, he worked a ton of overtime this year backfilling his home station an hour away and with a toddler and a baby due anytime, plus I work full time outside the home, we rarely get to go visit during the week. Sometimes it feels like insult to injury that he is so close yet so far away for so many days at a time. And then he was also gone for almost a month out of county this year, like many others. This has been a crazy year for absentee husbands/daddies/wives/mommies for fire families all around but for your family especially and I am grateful to your husband for his service. We live in Sonoma County and the wine country fires came within a mile of our home in October, with base camp located about a block away from us. So we experienced both sides of the coin this year and while it is always tough having them gone, I also got to see how much they affect the communities they serve and that made me appreciate our husbands even more. Hang in there mama and know there are many of us standing in solidarity with you. While chasing toddlers of course. 😉 <3

  • Holly Maynard

    I can totally relate! My husband (Cal Fire Battalion Chief) and I married 18.5 years ago. The morning after we married he left at 3 am to go to the training to become a full time firefighter. A couple months later, I started nursing school. 6 years later, we had our first of 3 kids. At one point, I had a 4 year old, a 2 year old and a baby during fire season (fire season used to be 5-7 months, not 9-10). Our kids are now 12, 10, and almost 8. Life is so much easier. My husband will be eligible to retire in 3 years. He can then take on lots of the home duties and I will be the full time worker. My best advice is to have your husband request a week off every month of fire season. Then he gets some (almost) guaranteed time at home every month. Good luck! It gets easier!

  • Laurie Ontario Canada

    Beautifully written, my hat goes off to you both. Have you guys thought of him working in the area you live so you aren’t apart so much. Keep up the great job both of you !

  • Leslie Rogers

    Wow…I’m amazed at the sacrifices your families make to keep Ca safe. This is eye opening for your average citizen. God bless you for all you do, for your loving support of your hubs & great example of strength to your children. I encourage you to nurture yourself & take people up on their offers of help…it will be a double ended blessing. Thank you seems far too inadequate.

  • C. Rose

    Very well written. My advice would be, after 38 years with CDF/Cal Fire, would be even 8 hours away, use caller ID to screen the call back phone calls-I learned that too late in my career, always someone else can do the job, have him TAKE 2 weeks vacation time in Aug. or Sept. that’s usually before school starts, fire season is starting to pick up, geart time for mental adjustment away from the job, re energize for up coming conclusion of fire season and usually great weather for trips. I spent 26 years of 38 running crews and one year was home for 3 single day increments between May 1st and Oct. 30. It’s not uncommon for Crew Captains to be gone 4-6 weeks at a time, best job I had though. I missed quite a bit of what you wrote about and now wish I would have taken 2 weeks off as described above, the last 10 years of my career is when I learned to vacation during fire season, have him start that now when your whole family is young, time passes and can’t get it back.
    To you and your husband, good luck and be safe.

  • confessionsofafirefighterwife

    I am so excited to start following your blog! For this is so similar to my situation as a Cal Fire Wife and feel like there’s a need for awareness of what fire families go through. This is why I chose to start my blog. Thank you for sharing your heart and prayers for safety and more family time!
    -Abi

  • Joy Ellington

    God bless you all! I am a grandma and great grandma. I have two grandsons and they are both fireman. I see them and their families living the life you are living. While your jobs provide a nice income, secure positions, rewarding work and self satisfaction knowing you provide a special service to many, it is not without a huge downside. Way to many people do not realize your sacrifice. God and you families do know and love , respect and appreciate you always!! May many blessing be yours each and everyone who wears the uniform.

  • Michelle Niewohner

    Hi! I am at the other end of this journey called CalFireLife. LOL!! My husband started in ’85 and we got married in ’87 so we have been on this journey for awhile now. We are looking at 2018 being his final year.

    We have gone through it all. Firefighter I, Firefighter II, Engineer, and now Station Captain. Seasonal, limited term, permanent. Working near home, working hours from home, out of county or stuck on for weeks at a time. We have just gotten in the habit of making plans and if he is home, he can join us, or not. Otherwise we are perpetually waiting for him to come home so we can do something together.

    My husband is high enough on the seniority list now to be able to pretty much get all of the dates he puts in for vacations. We sprinkle them throughout the year now. He works at the station just up the road from our house. Sure is a change with him being 3 minutes from our house vs. the varried (anywhere from 1-4) hours away that we saw the first 20-some years.

    Our daughter is almost 12 and has gone through all of the emotions of her papa being gone. Those emotions can be hard on everyone. They are legitimate but not always fair… for any of us. Just gotta keep talking about it. Validate those emotions but call it when they aren’t fair either.

    We try to talk as often as we can. We ALWAYS tell each other we love you. I never want that to be what hangs me up should, God forbid, anything happen to any of us. A single parent when they are gone but two parent when they are home. One of the things that we have tried to do is always be a team, even if we aren’t physically together.

    Funny story. Our daughter had just learned to use the phone. The cordless has a phone book so we inputed papa’s cell phone number so if she had to, she could call him. So one night she and I had pretty much had it with each other. She got mad and said she was calling papa to tell him how mean I was. He answers and she blurts out, crying, “papa, mama is being mean!” He said something and then she says, “that’s not nice!” Handed me the phone and went to her room. Turns out what he said was, “soooo, what did you do?” LOL!!!

    I try to keep him in the loop. If something needs to be dealt with, and I can, I will call him so we can deal with it together. We can brainstorm or hash it out just as we would if he was home. I don’t call with every little thing going on either.

    Wellll, that was long. Sorry. Suffice it to say, always tell each other, “I love you,” and keep the communication lines open.

    I am so proud of my husband. Who he is as a person, husband, dad, and as a fireman. I am thankful for being his wife. This has been a Blessed life.

  • Kelly Trudell

    As a firefighter & mama who is the one that’s gone I appreciate you sharing this so very much. Our job is tough, being left behind to life alone is tough, big hugs to you and yours ❤️

  • Lindsay

    Girl it’s like I was reading a chapter out of my own life book! My husband has worked for Cal Fire for 18 years, we’ve been together for 15, married for 10 and have two kids 9 and 7 yrs. We got married while he was in the COA academy. Of course we didn’t plan it that way. He missed our rehearsal dinner and literally had to return to Ione the morning after our wedding, I only got to see him less that 24 hrs that weekend. I promise you that it gets easier or better or maybe you just get more used to it. LOL! As your hubby gets more seniority, take advantage of that MOU vacation and be strategic with planning it. Take more days during peak time so he’s not locked on for so long at a time. My daughter used to avoid my husband too at that age but that gets better too! Reach out to other fire wives even for just moral support. They and we have all been there at some point. I’m probably pretty far from you but you can even email me if you need to LOL! We are all in this together, raising our families, supporting our husbands, running a household, etc! You’ve got this!! 😊

  • Danielle Klein

    These are all my stories. This has been my life for 30 years. This life, although hard with many personal sacrifices and loneliness has built incredible character in every member of my family. We are flexible, value time together, deal with disappointment as if it is a normal daily occurrence, value life, extend grace to each other, have compassion and know the meaning of being helpful. The lessons that have been learned, the friendships that have been made and the personal growth that has been gained is worth every tear, fear, sacrifice, missed milestones and struggle that this family faced. I’m thankful for the life we have been blessed with and hats off to all fire families and our communities who support them.

  • Amanda

    May God bless you and your little family and carry you all in darkness, weary days and times of fears and exhaustion. I’m a proud mama of a forest fireman and even my days and nights are in fear, faith, hope and prayer. Hugs and prayers to you. You are not alone. I’m proud of you and thank you, your husband and family for service and sacrifice.

  • Tiffany Pullen

    Sister, our lives are so similar it is scary. I to have an almost 3 year old girl and an almost 1 year old boy who miss their daddy so much. All we want in life is to have him home. It is so hard getting your hopes up, telling the kids daddy will be home soon, only to be disappointed and let down again because another fire or staffing pattern has kept him away from you. It is so hard going to bed alone night after night, missing your husband, knowing if something goes wrong in the night that you are your children’s only protector. I never thought in my wildest dreams my life would be like this. But here I am and I know I have to be strong for the kids, and for my husnand. I would love to find/ help create groups and connections for all of us going through this. It is so lonely, we need all the togetherness we can get. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Claudia

    What would be the most useful way for people to help fire fighter families? Just show up at your home and do laundry or cook or be another adult ear? Do you know that accepting gifts of time or talent is actually a blessing for the person offering also? I pray for St Florian’s intercession in protecting all firefighters.

    • thehomeacre

      Thank you for these wonderful ideas and questions. You have inspired my next blog post. I’m reaching out to a group of fellow fire wives to help answer this.

  • Amy

    Well said mama….hubby is a county firemen here in california, but is working with the county crew for the 3rd summer in a row. We have a 4 yr old and she gets older it gets harder. I try and shield her from everything fire related, especially since experiencing the Thomas fire this past december which forced us to be evacuated 3 times. She heard on the radio when the captain of the Arrowhead Hotshots was killed, and then asked me if her daddy is going to die. Its a tough job being a firewife and mama, and i am thankful to hear the stories and feel the love of courageous and strong women like yourself. Hang in there, and much love from California.

  • M

    Fascinating! I too am a Cal Fire wife of almost 30 years. Everyone makes choices and you have the right to your choices. I do note you and your husband like the California wages but choose to live in Idaho which makes the commute and time apart more stressful. You might want to adopt the line a fellow Cal Fire wife chose to use while she was raising children and her husband was gone a lot (in the days without cell phones, text messages, and video communication): “I’m a single mother with really great benefits.” Raising children is stressful; dealing with career demands and family demands is as well. Everyone has the right to vent. But, most mothers of young children, and those who have lived through it will tell you it’s exhausting. As one mother told me of her children’s early years – as she worked teaching during the entire time in addition to her husband working: “All I remember is being tired.” I commuted 45 minutes each way to my job; my husband worked for Cal Fire and was gone a lot. I am a second wife of Cal Fire employee as his first wife expected him home more – among other things. We all make choices; life is hard; you have the right to vent. I suggest you build a support system for your lifestyle and make the hard choices we’ve all had to make. None of us can have it all.

    • Melissa

      Maybe it’s just me, another fire wife at home on her own right now, working my own 50 hour a week job outside the home, raising a toddler and an infant, juggling their care and the household, and, and…but this comment irks me. “I do note you and your husband like the California wages but choose to live in Idaho”….that’s not a very supportive thing to say, especially coming from another fire wife. Just because a family would seek a better quality of life, she can’t express how hard it is to be on her own for 2/3 of the year? And I don’t know what the California cost of living was 30 years ago when you married into the fire service, but I can tell you that here in northern California, our family couldn’t make it on just my husband’s salary. We could choose to stay and I work, or choose to move out of state so I could stay home. Either way, he’s gone. Either way, it’s hard.

      Your tough love is unnecessary. We all know we chose this life, and yet we don’t necessarily choose the men that we love so dearly or the job that they chose for themselves. It doesn’t make it any easier. So if you can’t say something supportive, just scroll past.

  • Renee

    I’m sitting here in the midst of literally 1000’s of firefighters who’ve come from all over the country and Australia and New Zealand to fight the MendoComplex fire, and I have to wonder if your husband is here among these brave and dedicated people. My facebook page is covered with photos of these hero’s in uniform, walking our streets, their ‘command post’, sleep tents and trailers, engines, and many portrayals of them in full gear fighting these vicious fires! Along with the photo stories are so many, many grateful and prayerful comments! We can never know what these men go through, what they’re encountering and the difficulty of the task. But, please know that we are so humbled by their sacrifice, and yours. And to say that we are grateful, well, there is no measure..’.thank you’ does not suffice, but it’s all I have. So, thank you.

  • Danielle

    Thank you for starting this blog and putting more emphasis on the ff wife. I have 23 years under my belt of “fire years”. In my 23 years I have wanted to actually put on my work resume, carpenter, plumber, pool repair, tile installation, brick layer, vacuum and dishwasher repair… I have done it all while he was gone on some fire.

  • morghannkallison

    This brought tears to my eyes. I can’t imagine going that long without seeing my husband. You are so strong. I wish I lived close so we could friends. I’d treat you like I do my sister in law when her husband is on a business trip. I’d come stay over and tell you I have kid duty tonight, you get rest. Hold tight mama! This year seems worse for fires but hopefully your husband can be home soon.

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