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* * *
I am thankful. This has not always been an easy walk for me.
I am disappointed. We have missed family gatherings, weddings, dinner engagements, birthday parties, and holidays because of shift schedules and overtime.
I am patient. There have been dinners spent at the firehouse waiting for Daddy to return from a call while the kids get cranky and the food gets cold.
I am nervous. I awake at 3:00 A.M. hearing creaks in the house and don't have the comfort of my husband beside me.
I am tired. The house is full of sick kids and there is no relief in sight because Daddy is on a seventy-two-hour shift.
I am jealous. Jealous of all the women whose husbands came home at 5:00 P.M. to have dinner and hold them at the end of their day.
I am worried. I worry that he may not come home one day. This I try to tuck away.
I am content. We have decided to give up my career so I can stay home and raise our children. We no longer have an abundance of money or things. It is the greatest freedom I have ever known.
I am incompetent. There was a time when I considered myself moderately intelligent. I now struggle to remember where I left my car keys, the diaper bag, and, occasionally, thebaby.
I am waiting. Knowing the phone may one day ring for me.
I am doubting. Doubting that God hears all my prayers.
Doubting I am the kind of wife and mother He needs me to be.
I am trusting. Trusting that my husband will come home again.
I am confident, I am embarrassed, I am lonely, I am surprised, I am overworked, I am underpaid.
I am ... The Fireman's Wife.
* * *
My husband, Dan, has always wanted to be a fireman. He was introduced to his destiny as a boy, by two men who visited his home every week to share their escapades as fire-fighter/paramedics. Their stories transported him to the very homes where life-and-death decisions were made, exposing him to the victories, frustrations, and struggles these men faced every day. He was captivated by them, awestruck by their bravery, knowledge, and quick decision making. He was determined to be just like them.
His mother tells stories of her perpetually cheerful, tow-headed boy whirling around the neighborhood on his Big Wheel, lunch box turned first aid kit held tightly in his lap. He would race to the scraped knees and wounded pride of any number of kids who injured themselves in their quiet, middle-income, suburban neighborhood. Injured kids would sooner run to the door of Danny's modest two-story home for help than to their own mothers. "Go get Danny" came to their minds long before they'd learned the phrase "Go call 911."
Small and athletic, this gregarious middle child, flanked on either end by sisters, found the outlet for his natural agility and boy-driven interests not in sports, like many of his friends, but in everything related to firemen and rescuers. Fireman costumes and rescuing neighbor kids would, over the years, evolve into working at a first aid station at the local theme park, attending firefighting and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) courses at the local junior college, and finally enrolling in paramedic school.
But during his childhood years, stories from the two men who he later referred to as his mentors would have to suffice. The commitment he saw displayed every week in the faces of those firefighters was enough to plant the seeds for his future.
Those two men were Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto from the popular TV show Emergency. Their TV characters instilled commitment and inspiration into the heart of the boy who would one day become my husband, desires that were solidified by the view inside an ambulance.
On an unseasonably warm day in September of his fifth-grade year, Dan and a friend decided to have some late-afternoon fun riding around the neighborhood. The bicycle alone not providing enough entertainment for the two of them, they gravitated to something more interesting: turning Dan's bike into a towing device. A rope was tied to the back, allowing a passenger to ride behind the bike on a skateboard. Dan's mother, seeing the little inventors, had come out at one point and asked them to remove the rope, arguing that it presented too much potential for an accident. The boys acknowledged their understanding: the understanding that they needed to take their antics further down the street. The towing device was a hit, drawing a number of kids eager to participate with their go-carts and skateboards, Dan judicially ensuring that each kid had a chance for a ride.
A shout for dinner brought the festivities to an end and sent Dan blazing back home with the tow rope bouncing merrily behind him. A quick loop around the front of his mother's car, parallel-parked on the street in front of their home, and he would glide into the vacant driveway for a perfect landing. But the rope cut unexpectedly short under the car's front fender, the knot catching under the tire. Catapulted like a rider from a mechanical bull, Dan was launched over the handlebars headfirst onto the edge of a curb. He lay unconscious for several moments before a neighbor, screaming for help, ran the limp, pint-sized body up the driveway. Dan woke in the back of an ambulance, its siren screaming a path to the local hospital. Looking up at the rescuers, he thought quite simply, "If I live through this, I'll be doing this when I grow up for the rest of my life."
After five days in the hospital and with a new appreciation for his mother's advice, the little fireman was released to recover from his skull fracture with a career path set firmly in his mind.
But as any firefighter can attest, this career is not a matter of choice alone. Time, training, and experience would be necessary before the future fireman would be eligible to apply for a job. When that time finally came eight years later, when Dan was eighteen, departmental quotas for diversity-designed to make departments more reflective of the communities they served-left a young man with Irish heritage at the bottom of the hiring list. He was neither the right gender nor ancestry to fit the bill. It was a very different rejection than his ancestors faced so many years ago when the great potato famine sent thousands of Irish and Scottish immigrants flooding to the East Coast of the United States. Factories and storefronts placed signs in their windows: "NINA"-No Irish Need Apply. White-collar discrimination led the Irish to the jobs no one else wanted, jobs that were dirty or dangerous or both-firefighters and police officers. Dan now craved the job his great-great-grandfathers had been forced to do. But interview after interview left him without the job he longed for.
The arduous process of filling out applications, taking physical agility tests, reviewing interview questions, and visiting firehouses in an effort to learn more about each department would be in vain. His chances of providing emergency care appeared to be better on the streets with his Big Wheel than inside the fire service.
Two years went by without a job offer from a fire department, a time he cheerfully refers to as his "interview perfection training." It gave him a compassion for the eagerness and frustration he would see in the faces of other would-be firefighters. But that time was not wasted. He landed a job at a private ambulance service and began to hone his skills as a paramedic, eventually being promoted to the position of paramedic supervisor. It was during these important times that he began training, or "precepting," other paramedics.
He loved being able to pass on his experience and training to other young men and women who found themselves drawn to this line of work. He discovered a terrific network of friends and found a common bond with the public safety folks he worked with on a daily basis. Firefighters, police officers, nurses, and doctors all seemed to have the same intrinsic desire to help people and make right what too often seemed to go so wrong. But the privately owned ambulance companies didn't afford the one thing so many paramedics needed: job security. Although a private ambulance paramedic could make a decent living, it was without the benefits and support found in the career of firefighting. Most importantly, there was no fighting fires, which Dan longed for, so he continued the process of applying and testing at fire departments.
Dan had been invited to a paramedic partner's house for dinner by a mutual friend of ours, a party I had also been invited to. Introductions were made, and the evening progressed with small talk eventually turning to street stories, a theme that's played out anytime firefighters, police officers, or paramedics get together for social functions. I admired the way Dan spoke about his patients with respect and concern, and watched the way his dark, compassionate eyes reflected the intensity of his feelings one moment and then danced as he fell into laughter the next. He was refreshingly kind and humble, while still possessing an air of confidence. There was something magnetic about this man, not that I was interested, as I had sworn off men in the business of emergency care. Recently transitioning out of working as a paramedic myself, I was tired of the dating scene and was hoping to settle down with someone with a more predictable line of work than public safety. Dan had been clear: although he loved emergency care, his real desire was to be a fireman. It didn't matter how interesting he appeared, that was a line of work I was not interested in being a part of. Dan was nice, but clearly not the man for me.
Six weeks later, at a dinner party, I saw him again, shockingly aware that I stood frozen across the room staring at the man I was going to marry. I had yet to hold his hand or spend a moment alone with him, but I knew. That moment brought truth to the words my mother had so often spoken to me, and as my grandmother had after my mother's passing, that when I met the man who was meant for me I would just know. At twenty-eight years old I figured I had somehow missed the "just knowing" part and had resorted to the "just hunting" method. My established criteria-tall, dark, and handsome, with a normal job-had just been tossed out the window for short, bald, and funny who wants to be a fireman. Eighteen months later we walked down the aisle as husband and wife, our unpredictable future ahead of us.
* * *
With the newness of married life and its subsequent adjustments and transitions, my husband spoke little of his desire to be a firefighter. I'm sure I had mentioned on several occasions that I would be delighted if he did something other than firefighting, so the topic was not regularly addressed. This did not mean that his intentions had changed; it only meant that he wasn't discussing them with me.
Within a year his dark-blue suit was out of its protective cover and he was once again shining his shoes in preparation for the interviews that were sure to follow the applications he had been turning in. I eventually found myself sitting across the dining room table peppering him with mock interview questions to help him prepare for the job I didn't want him to have. I received an education in the process, as I became aware of how stressful and challenging the course of employment could be. Helping to prepare him for the job was preparing me to understand what he would be going through if he did get hired somewhere. It gave me a whole new respect for a career I had thought was defined by driving a fire truck and, as they say at the firehouse, "squirting the wet stuff on the red stuff."
Never did I realize the knowledge base these men and women would need in order to anticipate the life-threatening changes that can take place in a fire. Wind direction, fire temperature, fuel sources, water pressure, and hose sizes are all things that must be considered in any given moment when attacking even what seems like a simple blaze. One wrong decision and someone could be hurt or, worse, lose their life. It was mind-boggling to me, as we spent hours reviewing the history of the fire service and the advances in technology that affect what is still one of man's greatest enemies. With fire being capable of indiscriminately destroying lives, homes, and land, it is treated with the greatest respect by those who fight it. Their respect for what they refer to as "The Beast," "The Dragon," or "The Red Devil" binds them together like a tribe of warriors. The fact that they refer to firefighting as a "brotherhood" would be a clear indication of the intimacy and loyalty reserved for those who choose to enter into the life of a firefighter.
The history of the fire service reads like a perpetual world war. Mankind has learned to both fear and befriend this miraculous thing, which can either help or harm us. We use fire to prepare our food, warm our bodies, and in some cases ward off our enemies. The conditional part of the relationship requires respect and boundaries, as without containment this friend becomes an opportunistic monster with an insatiable appetite. Given the right conditions, it will devour everything in its path, growing stronger and more ravenous with each passing moment.
Poring over the annals of firefighting, I learned about the pride and honor that are passed along like heirlooms in firefighting families. Many of the men and women who find themselves in this profession aren't there by chance, but by bloodline. Although many of us have lost sight of our family traditions and heritages, there is a bounty of firefighters who can proudly count out more than two or three forefathers who were "on the job." Dan's own great-grandfather, his namesake, helped fight the fires from the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. The legacy skipped two generations and landed squarely in the heart of my husband.
This history lesson brought with it a treasure chest of information about the little-known symbols of the legacy that are still maintained today. The international firefighting symbol, known as the Maltese Cross, is still seen on uniforms, vehicle stickers, and logos the world over. It is the firefighter's insignia of protection, considered a badge of honor, and comes with a story of its own.
Hundreds of years ago a band of Crusaders from the island of Malta, known as the Knights of St. John, were fighting in the Crusades for the Holy Land. Their enemies, the Saracens, attacked them with an unexpected weapon: glass bombs filled with a flammable oil called naphtha, followed by flaming torches or arrows. Hundreds of Knights were burned alive; others risked their own lives to save their brothers-in-arms from dying such a painful death. The life-savers' heroic efforts were recognized by fellow Crusaders, who awarded each hero a badge of honor marked by a cross, similar to the one firefighters wear today. The symbol is a reminder that the one who wears it is willing to lay down his or her life for their fellow man, as the Knights of St. John did so many years ago.
My husband's heritage brought its own contribution to the fire service. When Irish firefighters were killed in the line of duty, their family funerals were filled with the traditions of the homeland, meaning bagpipes were played. Those who attended the funerals were exposed to the mournful and haunting sounds of the pipes, which brought an air of dignity to the solemn occasion. The power of the pipes somehow made it okay for the hardened firefighters to let their guard down and weep for their fallen comrades. Pipe bands from the East Coast representing both fire and police now have more than sixty uniformed pipers each, many who will dress in the traditional kilt and tunic of the Scottish or Irish. Today the pipes have become expected at the funerals of fallen heroes throughout the world.
My heart was overcome with pride and gratefulness as I read about the efforts and sacrifices made for centuries that bring us to the honorable, albeit imperfect, world of firefighting as we know it today.
The fire service has come a long way. Just 250 years ago, fire brigades were passing buckets of water in an effort to put out blazes. These rudimentary groups were eventually replaced in pre-Revolutionary times by hand tubs, enormous iron-tired tubs weighing up to three tons. The firemen who dragged them to the scene were often so exhausted from the effort that they would have to call on bystanders to do the pumping.
Excerpted from THE FIREMAN'S Wife by Susan Farren Copyright © 2005 by Susan E. Farren. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted March 27, 2009
This book is amazing; I've never read a better book. The Fireman's Wife was written by Susan E. Farren. It's a memoir on her husband's career as a firefighter and her worries about him as.
The main character in the book is Dan Farren. I can relate to what it's like to have to worry about someone in the fire service. My uncle is a firefighter and I worry about him sometimes. Susan, Dan's wife, is always worrying about if her husband would walk through the door after his sift.
The story took place a couple years ago in Petaluma, Calf. Most of the story took place in and at the fire house, somewhat at their house.
The author is saying that she loves her husband but sometimes loses her head when she thinks about Dan running into places other people are running out of. The story is mainly about courage and love and willingness.
The book taught me people care for one another no matter how bad things get.
When Dan and Susan met and were getting married she thought about if she was making the right choice marring a firefighter. When she was in school she said that she would never marry anybody with a dangerous job. But her love for him over powered her mind and she finally married him. They have four kids. He struggled to get into the fire department he wants to get in, but then he does. While on a call he was up on a roof cutting a trench cut to try to stop the fire from spreading. It was very smoky and the aerial hose didn't know people where on the roof. The aerial hose struck Dan sending him across the roof like a ragdoll. They took him to the hospital with life threatening injures.
This book was amazingly awesome; I couldn't put the book down! Every thing about this book was very well written.
Posted February 18, 2007
Sue Farren is RIGHT ON as she describes the ups & downs of being in the fire service...For both the firefighters and their families. With wit and style, she insightfully articulates the intangible details of life inside the fire service. But more than that, her story conveys what these men and women go through in order to serve, and the soul-wrenching sacrifices they make along the way.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 19, 2006
I am also a firefighter's wife and was drawn to this book. It was incredible. I was so happy to know that there are other wives that have the same thoughts and feelings that I do. This book was a true account of what a firefighter goes through to become a firefighter and what happens when you make it. I couldn't believe the similarities in our lives from across the country. I laughed and I cried. I'm actually going to have my husband read it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 30, 2006
I just loved this book! I enjoyed the authors sense of humor about motherhood and being a wife. I could relate to many of her insights. It really made me appreciate not only the firefighters but their families as well. You don't have to be married to a fireman to enjoy this book!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 28, 2006
Every now and then someone writes a memoir about the lives of those involved in emergency services that really gets it right. Susan Farren's book is such a book. With a great sense of humor and an easygoing, almost conversational style, Susan Farren relates an interesting story that shines with a quiet dignity throughout. I highly recommend this book. Thankfully, there are people like the Farrens who are willing to sacrifice so that we can all rest a little easier. Also, thankfully, she found the time to write about it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 8, 2006
You would never believe that Sue Farren is a first-time author - she is a natural storyteller and has a charismatic and comedic style that make this an easy and enjoyable read. Many personal anecdotes and honest reflections on the challenges of being a wife, mother, and just a woman in general the fears and insecurities we all have. I'm not a fireman's wife, but I found Sue's stories to be enlightening - it made me grateful to know there are men out there willing to risk their lives everyday to protect others, and that their families support them in this, despite the looming threat of loss. I love books that let you glimpse the life of someone in a very different position than yourself. Sue Farren invites readers to do this with surprising wit. I can't wait to read more from her.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 8, 2010
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Posted October 12, 2012
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