It hit me suddenly today while sorting laundry. Today was no different from the last sixteen years of sorting laundry – towels, colors, whites, jeans, – and fire department uniforms. Eddie’s uniforms – that pile of dark blue pants, t-shirts, polo shirts and job shirts labeled AACOFD. I always wash them separately from the family’s clothes. They often smelled of diesel fumes or smoke. I check the pockets for the inevitable tube of Chapstick, breath mints, ball point pens or loose change. Before polo shirts, I would remove all of his pins and name badge from his button down shirt and put them on a shelf. I always did his uniforms first to be sure he had clean ones in case he took overtime before his next shift. I would try to get them out of the dryer as soon as it buzzed and hang them right up so he – nor I – would have to iron them. It was just routine. Today however, as I tossed his uniforms into a pile, I realized this would be the last time I would ever wash his uniforms again. I got a big lump in my throat and my eyes welled up with tears. It got me thinking about the last sixteen years of my life and being married to a fire fighter…
When I met Eddie, I knew nothing about the fire service. I had never really thought about it before – what “they” were about. I knew you called 911 and they showed up, but that was the extent of it. I guess you wouldn’t know unless you’ve had a family member in the fire service. I had no idea about the large, extended and most caring family that I was about to become part of; and like any family, all the many dynamics that come with it.
From the beginning, his instincts kicked right in. He struck up a conversation with me in K-Mart but soon noticed I was trying to conceal the remnants of two black eyes. His shameless flirting quickly turned to concern. He never asked me directly what happened, but he seemed to know. He was so kind and he had the best smile. After chatting for a few minutes, he found out I was looking for someone to do some repairs on my house and somehow I ended up with his number. I hired him to repair my house and he ended up repairing my heart.
Initially, getting used to the 24/48 hour shift was tough. Sleeping in your bed alone, doing all of the routine stuff by yourself and trying not to think about what might be happening while he was at work, was hard. After a while, I learned to use this time to my advantage. These were my nights. I could watch a sappy chic-flick without him teasing me because I was crying. I could stay up late reading, paint my toenails in bed, or take a long bubble bath to relax. The kids and I liked to have breakfast for dinner ( it wasn’t Eddie’s favorite) and we loved it. They always looked forward to that. My daughter and I could go to the mall and shop or I could go out with a girlfriend and catch up. It was quiet when he was gone, but like I said, I used it to my advantage to get things done – or sometimes – just do nothing at all.
Before the shift changed to 24/72, they had something called “Kelly” days, which he affectionately called “Sally”days. A Kelly day was a paid shift off to balance the hours they worked overtime. Sometimes I would forget a Kelly day was the next shift, and when he told me, I would get so excited that he was staying home!
Once, while we were dating, I turned on the morning news before work and saw there had been a huge fire at a marina. Eddie drove the boat at Station 19 so I knew he was on the job. I couldn’t stop thinking about him! I waited to hear from him, but I had to get to work. I decided at the last-minute to drive by the station and they were just pulling in with the truck. I saw Eddie with his turn out gear on; he was sweaty with soot smudged on his face. He grabbed me, picked me up and spun me around. Just seeing the elation on his face of a job well done was amazing! It made me so proud of who he was and what he did for a living. My heart still beats fast when I think about it!
A wise mother of a police officer once told me, you have to replace your fear with faith, and that changed things for me. His safety wasn’t in my hands. I had to let that go and let him do his job. It was what he was born to do and he did it with pride, knowing the dangers he faced. He always kissed me goodbye when he left for his shift, before sunrise, while I still slept. I always squeezed his hand and sleepily told him to “be safe.”
I remember the first time I watched Ladder 49 and seeing that red car pull up to their house with the two officers. They came to give her the news that every fireman’s wife fears. My heart ached, I couldn’t breathe and it was as if I were receiving the news myself. I sobbed. I refused to let myself think about the unthinkable.
I learned early on about what a caring family we had even before we were married. While going through my divorce, I would have to drop off my girls to my former husband. I often felt unsafe. If Eddie wasn’t available to follow me on his motorcycle, he would call Station 19 and you could be sure a truck or ambulance was waiting in the parking lot of McDonald’s when I arrived. When I thanked them for being there, Greg Bennett would say, “Hey, I wanted a milkshake anyway.” It was such a comfort to have them there for my girls and me.
Then when my daughter Chelsea became terminally ill, our brothers and sisters donated leave, raised money, provided meals, came to help and then held us up after she died. And in turn, we have done the same when other families were hurting or struggling. When one person hurts, we all hurt.
When Ashley was older and on her own, Eddie would tell me that she often came by the station to chat with him or have dinner with the shift. She could have him to herself. There is just something about stopping by the house, it always feels like home. There’s an energy there that just feels good.
When we had out two youngest kids, he got to play such a big role in parenting. It was awesome that he got to be home with them so much. They are so close to him now because of it. But on the flip-side, they learned at a young age that Daddy wouldn’t be there for everything. They learned we could celebrate holidays or birthdays on different days and that was okay. He often missed family functions. It was just the way things were. We were proud of what he did and we always prayed each night that he was away to “keep Daddy safe at work.”
One thing is for certain with the fire department family, there will be antics, relentless harassment and plenty of laughter. I would hear stories of pranks, pies in the face and Ex-lax in the brownies. Stopping by the fire house for dinner was always fun! I missed that after we moved too far away to visit during his shift.
If I came by to have dinner with the shift, you could be sure Eddie was the brunt of all the jokes for my benefit. They pried me for information to harass him more. Once, Lt. Staley asked me if Eddie ever stopped talking? (Eddie?) I have never lived down the fact that I told him whenever his stories get too long, just tell him, “Eddie, land the plane.” Apparently, I made his life hell after that! (Sorry babe!!)
After Ethan was born, Station 40 C shift came to the hospital to visit during their shift. As they passed my son around, they compared his features to that of all the other guys on the shift. Of course I rolled my eyes, but I love the silly, backward affection that surrounds us! It was so funny – and that’s how it always is!
When I was big and pregnant with Charlotte, Eddie bought a Ford F250 and told the guys I was having trouble getting up into his truck. Dave Cox, said, “Funny, she has no trouble at all getting into mine!” There will always, always be a sarcastic, come-back line!
I have heard them tell stories about firehouse pranks and funny calls that have made me laugh so hard that I literally peed my pants! (Sorry about your chair Jeff Eckhardt, but I warned you to stop!) A pregnant gal can’t always make it to the potty!
I’m pretty sure most (non-firefighter’s) wives would not be okay with it if their husbands came home and said, “so I was laying in bed with *insert female fire fighter’s name* last night and we were discussing….” But for us, shared bunk rooms are just part of the job. No biggie.
On the other hand, there have been plenty of tears, sadness and grief. These guys and girls see things no one should see, then come home and go on with their lives with those images in their heads. What do they do with these emotions? I don’t understand how they do it – how they come home and be our husbands and daddies, but we should all be glad they are willing to do it for us. They are willing to sacrifice it all for us. September 11, 2001 proved that and that was a horrible time for everyone. I’m certain the majority of firefighters suffer from some form of PTSD, but they just keep doing their job. It’s all ‘in the line of duty.’ They are amazing human beings! I asked Eddie if the feeling of helping others out-weighs the bad stuff they see. He answered, “Sometimes.”
I love how much they care about each other. A few years ago, Eddie was scheduled to work on Christmas. It was Christmas Eve and we had already celebrated our Christmas earlier that day. After dinner, he told me he was going to go in early to relieve a firefighter with young children so he could go home and surprise them on Christmas morning. Those little things are so meaningful. It had been done for us, and I’m sure that firefighter will one day do the same for someone else. It warmed my heart that he cared so much about his fellow brother.
Every morning when he opened the door after his shift, one look at him told me to either put on a pot of coffee, so he could sit down and decompress, or make plans to leave so he could go to bed and have a quiet house for the day. I’ve seen him slam a beer at 8 am, walk upstairs without saying a word and go straight to sleep. Other mornings, he wants to tell me everything about his shift. Either way, it was always okay with me. I will always be there for him. He needed to know that love and support are waiting for him at home. If the kids didn’t get to see him before they left for school, they ran off the bus, bypassed me and plowed him down! They were always happy to see Daddy after work!
I know he hasn’t told me a fraction of the things he has experienced. He knows I’m sensitive and he doesn’t share the awful stuff. He also doesn’t want me to worry that he has been in dangerous situations. I remember going into work one morning and my co-worker told me she saw Eddie in the newspaper. I looked puzzled and she realized I didn’t know anything about the rescue he had made the day before. Eddie and Joe Holland had to rescue a trapped gas tanker driver that had crashed into a gas station plowing down the pumps. They were cutting him out of his rig all while being saturated in gasoline – so much so that their turn out gear had to be replaced.
Even as my husband retires – much sooner than he hoped – we will continue to pray for all of our brothers and sisters. Both for their safety and well-being on and off the job.
So what now?
For fire fighters, it’s not just a job, it becomes part of who you are. You’re never really off the job. Actually, I’ve seen more of what Eddie does off the job, than on the job.
First of all, we get safety lessons on everything! We hadn’t been together long when he threatened to send me to fire safety school. Who knew there was a mandatory school for people who are fire/safety hazards!? So, I learned to never leave a candle burning if I’m not in the same room. I never leave my curling iron plugged in. He taught me how to hold my fingers correctly when using a knife. I never mow or use the weed whacker without using safety glasses. I check the perimeter of my vehicle before backing out of my parking space. I notice the features of people’s faces so I could describe them if necessary. Our smoke detector batteries are always up to date. Christmas trees are to be feared and checked for water several times a day. Cords and appliances are unplugged before leaving on vacation. Batteries are disposed of properly and taped on the ends. Car seats are always strapped in correctly. Extension cords are the devil! The kids wouldn’t dream of riding their bikes without a helmet. You get the point….
Secondly, we get lessons on doing things “the right way.” Our garden hoses are hung immaculately and never twisted- the same with extension cords. Things are organized with the purpose of efficiency. If I’m driving with him, the vehicle must be backed in to the parking space – he would never dream of pulling into a parking space! And no turning your head to look- use your mirrors!! Anything less is unacceptable! *eye roll* Oh, and apparently, I know nothing about how to properly wash a vehicle.
It seems with everything we do there is an explanation and a lesson. What drives us crazy is that it ALWAYS makes sense and he is (mostly) always right! *big, frustrated eye roll* If he doesn’t know how to do something, I assure you he will figure it out!
I love the way his brain works! He is always thinking outside the box. Once, he told me that the AAMC ER department called 911 to help with a case in which they were trying to find a solution. (What? The doctors called the firefighters?) A little girl had stuck her finger through a stainless steel coaster that had round holes cut in it. Her finger had swelled and they were considering taking her into surgery to remove it. The little girl was crying and they were running out of options. Eddie went to the truck and got a roll of plumber’s teflon tape. He thought if he could force the fluid from the swelling from the tip of her finger back into her hand, then coaster could possibly slip off. So, he started at the tip of her finger and slowly wrapped the tape around her finger, forcing fluid back into her hand. The object came off and surgery was avoided! (I’m still amazed the ER doctors called 911??)
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Eddie’s cooking. He is an amazing cook! I love to watch him in the kitchen. He told me early on that the best cooks in the firehouse don’t clean toilets! It’s a, “I cook, you clean up” rule at home also and I’m okay with that – it’s totally worth it! I know many of you will miss his mad cooking skills! Fettucini Carbonara, meatloaf, 1/3 lb burgers to die for; firehouse chili; juicy, mouth-watering roasts; perfectly cooked, tender chicken breasts….. He would tell me of the meals he would cook for the shift and I often commented that he didn’t cook like that for us at home anymore! No fair!
We have stopped numerous times at accident scenes before help arrived. Last summer, he and the kids were on their way to my office to take me out to lunch. They were late and I tried calling, but no one answered. He finally called me back and said, “Sorry there was an accident, we’ll be there soon.” I figured they just got caught in a back up because of the accident when actually he was helping at the accident scene. When I got in the truck, the kids were so excited they were about to burst! I said, “What’s going on?” and they proceeded to tell me that they saw a bad accident and Daddy saved a baby! My jaw dropped and he just blew it off like, no big deal! They said he stopped all the traffic and broke a window with his elbow (so they thought, but he actually carries a window punch) in a smoke-filled car, got the baby out, made sure everyone was stable and okay, calmed down the father of the baby, and on and on. The kids were so excited and crazy proud of their Dad. I looked at him with a dropped jaw, as he calmly ate his hamburger, and just shook my head. I guess it was just routine for him, but not for us!
Always at the kids’ sporting events, if a someone gets hurt, they say, someone go find Eddie.”
There was a fire in our neighborhood and he ran to the scene and made sure no one was inside, then assessed the scene and spoke to the crew as they arrived.
We went for a walk one night with our dogs and saw a guy stumbling our of a bar in our town. He watched him pull out his car keys and get into his vehicle. Without hesitation, he went over and befriended the guy, was able to get him to hand over his keys, and then he drove him home. The guy was in tears when he realized what he was doing, and Eddie never judged him or made him feel like a bad person. He confessed to Eddie that he already had several DUI’s. Eddie might have saved someone’s life that night because of his direct actions.
Another night he heard our young neighbor screaming at the hands of her boyfriend. He yelled for me to call 911 as he proceeded to bang on their door until she answered. I’m certain he would have kicked it in if she hadn’t come to the door. She was crying and he took her by the hand and into our house. He gave her boyfriend a few choice words and when the police arrived, he let them take it from there. We, along with the police, talked to the young woman and encouraged her to get domestic abuse counseling.
Often we don’t want to meddle in other people’s business, but Eddie never hesitates to do the right thing. That just amazes me. No second thoughts ever – he just acts.
You know, you hear stories about angels appearing to people at accident scenes never to be seen again. Maybe some actually are spiritual angels, but I believe a lot of times, they are firefighters who happen upon the scene to help, then slip away without a trace before anyone can thank them. I’ve seen it happen many times before with my own eyes.
I’m not sure if you can tell, but I adore this man. I adore that he cares so much about his brothers and sisters in the fire department. I adore that he cares so much about his fellow man. I adore the fact that he is so selfless. I adore his humility about it.
I’m sad this chapter is over, but I’m so proud that he had such an amazing career. I’m so thankful that God watched over him and brought him home safely to us after each shift.
I’m wondering what the future holds for him. There are no definite plans yet, but I know what ever he chooses, he will do it with the same pride and dedication that he did when he was a firefighter because that’s just who he is…
Now, grow that beard, Eddie! You’ve earned it!