What It’s Like To Be Married To A First Responder

by Casi Mott
Group of three firefighters on duty in front of a fire truck

PTSD, sleepless nights, long hours, stressful calls, missed holidays, and much more.

These are just a few things that I, a “Fire Wife,” have to learn how to handle on a daily basis. My husband is a firefighter. He has been for the last ten years. I could go on and on and say that I didn’t sign up for this, but I did. I knew what I was getting into and I knew the sacrifices that I would have to make not only as a person, but also as a mother and a wife.

One of the things that being a first responder’s wife has challenged me with is the emotional distance. Sometimes when my husband comes home from work, he is quiet, grumpy, or short tempered. This can be a result of a tough call, no sleep, or both. It is hard to tell. The day he comes home from shift is always hard. The work adrenalin wears off, and the effects of that are clear. He is tired and sometimes detached. Not only that, but I have my routine with the kids while he is gone and when he comes home, it takes us a day to get back into our normal routine as a family of five and I have to be patient with that, which is hard sometimes.

I was a single mom before my husband and I met, so when he is on shift, it is easy for me to pick up the slack and be both mom and dad. But a full 48 hours and sometimes 72 hours is really tough. We are a pretty good team so it is rough to not have him home to pass off to when I need a break. We have three kids, breaks are needed — don’t judge me.

Some days are harder than others, some days Mommy loses her shit and needs a moment alone, and some days are amazing. I never miss any of the kids’ “firsts” because I am so blessed that my husband has this profession and I get to stay home. I have been trying to be more understanding of all the overtime and being grateful for this job that he has worked so hard for.

I am not sure I can remember the last Christmas we spent together as a family, on December 25th. My husband is usually with his firehouse family on that day and we are left celebrating either the day before or the day after, depending on rotation. This leads to a three-day event usually because we visit both of our families for this holiday. I am thankful that this year his schedule allows him to be home. Missing holidays or important days are just a part of the job, something I did not realize when we first met. Now that he is “career,” we are blessed to be able to plan out his yearly schedule, but he is the newest guy so it is not always in our favor.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is something that affects anywhere from 7% to 37% of firefighters. This number is rapidly growing and suicide rates are also up in recent years. As a wife of a firefighter, I have to be aware of the signs of these things, I have to be educated in this area — an area I never thought I would even think about. When my husband has a rough day, he tells me, but he hardly goes into detail. Some things are hard to talk about, and I am the type of person who likes details, so learning to let these things go has been tough for me.

Let’s discuss the bonkers sleep patterns of firefighters… On a 48-hour shift, they often do not get a full night’s rest. They go to bed waiting for the tones to drop so they can jump out of bed and provide aid to these people. This is an unhealthy sleep pattern and, at home, I can see the effects of this sometimes. If I wake him for any reason, he always jumps up. I do my best to let him sleep so he can catch up, but sometimes our kiddo’s have other plans.

The fear I have for my husband when he leaves for a shift varies. I used to be worried I used to sit and worry about his well-being and if he was going to be okay in a house fire. But now I am confident in his co-workers, and I trust them to have his back if he needs help in any type of situation. The nice thing about having a fire family is knowing you can trust them with your significant other and not worry. Now this does not go without saying that when I hear the sirens of the fire truck, I don’t wonder or worry, because I do, just not as much. I have learned to manage it and he always checks in afterward, which makes me feel better.

While he is on shift, communication is tough sometimes. We could go all day without a single text besides a “goodnight, love you.” This makes it hard when we need to make decisions about anything at all. So when the phone call does happen, we all of a sudden have seven different things to discuss before the tones drop. Texting has been our most used form of communication even though he hardly texted when we first met. Being a fire wife, we sometimes have to just go ahead and make the tough decisions on our own and he just has to be okay with it.

At the end of the day, being a firefighter is hard, but being a fire wife is also hard. We deal with so many things that non-fire wives might not even think about. Of course, it might be easier to be married to someone who has a normal 9-to-5 job, but you can’t help who you fall in love with. You don’t choose your person. I knew what I was getting into when we started dating seven years ago. Did I think it would be this hard? Absolutely not, but is it worth it? A million times yes. He is my person, and I am a fire wife.

“Firefighter wife: the strength behind the boots.”