Yesterday, a horrible tragedy happened in Baltimore City. Three firefighters lost their lives battling a row home fire following a collapse of the structure. A fourth is hospitalized in stable condition. Hundreds more are in mourning. As I sit here writing this, my husband is on another 36-hour shift. Thirty-six hours away from home with limited contact. And in moments like these, I pause. I pray for the families and the comrades of the fallen and I pray for the safety of my husband.
Ten years ago, I gave Justin an ultimatum that he had until he was 30 to switch careers and become a firefighter. He graduated at age 29. Through the fire academy and EMT certifications, we had a one-year-old at home. That’s where his sacrifices began. Justin left home before Jake woke up and usually was home for only a few minutes before Jake went to bed. Some nights he spent at a friend’s apartment to break up the hour-plus commute. He spent hours studying on nights and weekends.
After graduation, he was placed at one of his top choices in Oxon Hill. Note that this was my last choice. See, Justin liked the idea of Oxon Hill because it’s “busy and you see it all, you are never bored.” To me, that equated to danger and no sleep.
In the beginning, I downloaded an app that allowed me to listen to calls when he was away on his 24-hour shifts. This just gave us both anxiety. I stayed up through the night and he got annoyed with my texts asking if it was his call. Over time, I got better with distancing myself from it and also with being home alone. We now agree that if something bad happens, he will text or call that he’s not there, or if he was, that he’s okay. Together we chose which of his former firefighters would come to me if something ever happens. And together, we pray that day never comes.
Now, almost a decade in, we are used to the routine of no routine. With Covid, he works overtime and mandatory holdovers like crazy. More nights than not, he hasn’t slept. Most days are routine medical calls, but then there are the ones that stand out. He’s dealt with not being able to bring children back from abuse and drownings. A knife pulled on him, a murder in front of him, people in self-induced drug outrages, and plenty of fires and post-fire sweeps. Despite the toll of what he sees and the lack of sleep, he attempts to come home and be the best he can be for all of us.
Tomorrow, he will come home after 36 hours and coach our son in ice hockey and then probably come home and braid Madilyn’s hair. He says he misses enough time with all of them, so he won’t sleep when he is home.
He misses big goals in games, concerts and plays, bedtime stories, and snuggles. Holidays, Christmas mornings, and family dinners. Some days he doesn’t even get to talk to the kids because we play phone tag and then they are asleep. On top of this, he works another full-time job because public service doesn’t pay.
While he’s gone I am in charge of 24-36 hours of taking care of the kids, house, animals, sports carpools, homework, meals, bedtimes, arguments over brushing teeth and taking showers, all alone. It can be a stressful and lonely place to be but I also remember that I am fortunate enough to not miss the time. Time that he has to spend away.
When you see these headlines of a firefighter lost and injured, remember the sacrifices they all make day in and day out and be thankful that even after this, the worst of days, they will all continue to make those sacrifices tomorrow. They run into burning buildings, known drug houses, and more without a second thought. They will miss their son’s game-winning goal or daughter’s big speech. Send up a prayer for those who continue to walk into situations that most would walk away from.
Also, please say a prayer for those they leave at home who wait for them to walk back through the door… for they are making huge sacrifices, too.
To all of the first responder spouses-I know what it’s like, I know how unsettling it can be, and I’m rooting for you and here if you need me.
To Justin, thank you for all you do for our family and so many others.
And finally, may Baltimore City Firefighters Lt Paul Butrim, FFPM Kelsey Sadler, and FFPM Kenneth Lacayo rest in peace, and the others all come home.