The Feminist Firewife
Jan 28, 2022
I am a firewife.
Yes, the term is completely gender biased. It evokes a thought of all firefighters as men, with us wives sitting at home, our roasts warming and our rollers setting so we can present our big strong husbands with a martini after a long day of pulling hose. (Fact check - though the industry does statistically heavily sway male with somewhere between 4% and 8% of firefighters being women depending on who you ask, this number is deservedly on the rise and we can no longer see, nor represent this career as a career for men alone).
Now I am a wife and I do happen to have a big strong husband who is a male firefighter and I own martini glasses, but my husband is more likely to get a mom bun and a takeout request after he comes home from a 24 hour shift. I also personally know so many BOSS women firefighters.
And yet I call myself a firewife.
Firespouse would certainly be more appropriate, but still insinuates I am defined by my other’s career and not my own. I mean, it’s not like I don’t have my own sh*t going on. I have my own title (and no, it isn’t mompreneur, though that would be a fairly linear tangent discussion I suppose), in fact several… or numerous as the case may be. And oh yeah, a very busy toddler at home.
And yet, Firewife.
Though I am married to a firefighter, have a huge firefighter friendship community and work with and on behalf of firefighters, I am not a firefighter groupie (bunker bunny? Hose hoe.). In fact, my mister wasn’t a firefighter when we met, and Sootsoap wasn’t even a thought. I just don’t define myself by my husband’s career.
Or maybe I do if I still call myself a Firewife.
What is it about this term that I gravitate to?
It’s the fire life y’all.
Like many in the fire service, Hubs is on 24s. This sounds dreaaaaamy - he works 7 or 8 days a month (which is kind of like your partner going away every weekend of every month but on a shotgun schedule...), and is off the rest. In reality, it’s not really how it ends up working. Because he has to get up at 4:30 in the morning on shift days, we can’t do much the day before a shift - early to bed, early to rise. If he has a busy night, he returns home at 9am or so absolutely knackered. On those days he goes straight to bed for a nap, or he walks around like a zombie all day and passes out on the couch. Surrounding busy shift days, this means he can be out of commission for 2 days. 14+ days a month. Closing in on 50% of the month, out of commission. Many firefighters have second jobs, have a dedicated fitness schedule, and are particular about what they eat. This means loads of extra time working, working out, shopping and prepping food (my man sadly married a veggie so doesn’t come home to many roasts, but I am hyping myself up for this martini ritual …).
Let’s not forget holidays. We’re on what feels like a Russian roulette of holiday skipping. This year my bunker boy worked Christmas again. Missed Thanksgivings, Easters, Birthdays, Labour Days at the Cottage, March Breaks … not just for us, but often for our families as well. The whole firefamily lives the schedule. (I will take this opportunity to thank the 10 people in our family who changed their vacation scheduling this year so we could come to the cottage...)
Now, we also share at-home childcare responsibilities. This works out really great for us right now while daycare is up in the air - I take mornings and Mr. Charcoal takes afternoons, meaning I get solid, dedicated, no distraction computer and conference call time when he’s home. It also means we don’t always get to see a lot of each other. ‘Ships passing in the night’ as it were. But this would never work if I had a typical job, or typical hours.
And let's just float right past the stress of having a partner who walks into fire for a living...
Those of you who live with someone who does shift work or travels a lot for work probably feel this hard too. It’s tough enough to care for a family, a household, yourself (especially yourself) when you feel alone - are alone - much of the time. It can be hard to keep your own roles prioritized when you’re beholden to “the Schedule”. Support and communication become everything. But sacrifice too.
Vollies have it tough also, and we’ve done that too. Our favourite local restaurant would always serve our meals with to go boxes - inevitably there would ALWAYS be a call right as we sat down to eat. I have a collection of photos of empty chairs at restaurants I thought would make a nice coffee table book. We always ate at the same restaurants because I could walk home - and forget having a beer, or leaving the neighbourhood! A few times I took my sweet time at the grocery store when those green lights were needed.
I could go on, but the point is, when you marry a firefighter, you marry their schedule, just like they marry yours (my hubs could write a book on the randomness of my own career and the bizarre requirements it has put on him, so I assure you no fingers are being pointed here!); you marry their job, and it becomes a lifestyle. The Firelife.
The term ‘firewife’ is so loaded with the life, that I continue to identify with it hard.
I am incredibly proud of the man my husband is, and being a firefighter exemplifies that. Not only is he the most annoyingly intelligent and rational person I know, he is kind, supportive, giving, loving and hard working. He is dedicated to excelling at his role as a firefighter, as a father and as a husband. He saves people’s lives - literally. He makes the difference we all want to make. And sometimes it's hard.
I am an unapologetic feminist and a strong, independent woman. I am also incredibly proud to be his Wife. The challenge lies in identifying yourself with a noun - any noun - mom, entrepreneur, firefighter, firewife. As Oscar Wilde said, we are not nouns, we are verbs, and there is danger in imprisoning yourself in a noun so that you become nothing but that noun. I am more than a Firewife. More than a Mom. More than a Brand owner. I’ve fought intensely for every one of my titles. The challenge will be making sure none detracts from another.
So... two olives?