According to spouses of first responders, families of the men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line for their communities also have a duty because they must find ways to deal with worrying about their loved ones’ dangerous occupations and handle family matters for long periods of time when their loved ones are away at work.
Xirna Spear said she and her husband, a Liberty firefighter and paramedic, eased into his schedule of being away, which made it easier for their family. Niki Slavers and Lisa Sanneman, both wives of Liberty firefighters, said they were single moms before marriage, so the transition to becoming a first responder’s wife was easier for them, but added there are still struggles.
When it comes to worrying about the danger of the job of an emergency response crew member, the wives expressed differing ways of coping.
“We have a deal, if he’s going to a fire or active shooter, he texts me,” said Sanneman, whose husband is a firefighter and paramedic.
Her husband responding to a mass shooting or getting hit by a vehicle while on the side of a road at a call evokes more concern in Sanneman.
“There are people who will put in a call just to have first responders show up and start shooting at them,” she said of mass shooters.
For Spear, not knowing where her spouse is called to in the moment is preferred.
“Fire, car accident, I’d rather not know,” she said. “I’d be the one who calls in 30 minutes to see if they answer.”
“I think other people think about it more than we do,” said Slavers.
While all expressed differing views on copying with worry, all agree the hardest part of being the spouse of a first responder is having their significant other away from home for extended periods of time.
Having a spouse away often means relying on family and friends for things like picking children up from school and activities. It also means planning food schedules and finding babysitters. Spear and Slavers said they go to a lot of events alone because their spouses are often away at work.
“If you don’t like being independent, this isn’t the life for you,” Spear said.
Some firefighters work multiple jobs, so in addition to being gone for 24 hours as an on-duty firefighter, some may be away from the home working for up to 72 hours, said the wives.
Sanneman said being away from her spouse for multiple days can lead to fatigue and frustration on both her and her spouse’s part so they try to set a limit on how long her husband is away.
“Seventy-two hours is my limit, usually, because I know how tired he gets,” she said “... You have to find that fine balance between not being grumpy back at them because you know they’ve been gone.”
Despite their fears and having to do a lot on their own while their spouses are at work, it is a duty the women welcome as their spouses are following a calling, the women said.
“They are most worried about us at home,” Slavers said. “When a tornado comes in, they can’t be there to protect us.”
“People don’t always recognize we are their decompression,” Slavers added. “We are the people they come home to to forget about the worst moments of their life.”