To the Editor:
On Monday night, I waited anxiously for my husband to return home from our City Council meeting. He finally walked through the door just before midnight. The outcome was positive, and what we were hoping for, after weeks of deliberation, the Warwick City Council approved the new firefighter contract with a narrow win of 5-4. But as I watched my husband enter our home, he looked like he had just been in the biggest brawl of his life. Not a physical fight, but a battle that tested every ounce of his mental and emotional well-being. It was a “win” for our firefighters, the union, and ultimately the City of Warwick, but it sure as hell didn’t feel like one.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on this subject matter, so I thought it was only fitting to get a firefighter wife’s perspective.
My husband and I both grew up in Warwick, graduated from Warwick public schools and currently reside in what we both believe is the greatest neighborhood in this city: Greenwood. Our two sons attend Greenwood Elementary School, and I serve on the PTO board. We are heavily invested in our community, and there’s no place we would rather live and raise our children.
That being said, I attended my first (and, quite possibly, last) City Council meeting the Friday prior to Christmas and I was absolutely bewildered when they opened the floor to public comment. The behavior of the constituents that attended that meeting was appalling and down right embarrassing. They villainized the firefighters (often referred to as “thugs” and “gang” members), and degraded and harassed the City Council members.
Everyone is entitled to their freedom of speech, but I draw the line when people spew serious threats and accusations. The ludicrousness of some of the comments were almost laughable. Even my 9-year-old son shook his head in disbelief when a constituent singled out a councilman for “being distracted and playing on his laptop” the entire meeting. It was poetic justice when the councilman held up his giant legal pad that he had been diligently writing notes on all night. No laptop in sight. It just goes to show you that people only see what they want to see, and they are quick to judge without knowing all the facts.
So, I’d like anyone that’s reading this to take a moment to understand what I see – and subsequently don’t see – as a firefighter’s wife.
I see a man who is the very definition of selfless. He puts the needs of others before his own – which, sadly, adversely affects our family. I see a man who misses holidays, birthdays, celebrations, our kids’ games and activities, and the everyday moments that many of us take for granted, because we are there to witness it. I see a man who often forgoes sleep and meals, because he is responding to calls all night long. I see a man that works tirelessly to make ends meet for our family every single week. I see a man that is so brave that he would be willing to risk his life to save a stranger’s life. I see a man whose loyalty runs deep and would lay down his life for his comrades. And, lastly, I see a man that walks out of the house to go to work accepting that he may never come home.
As the wife of a firefighter, however, there is so much that I don’t see. I don’t see the trauma and tragedies he responds to regularly – the fires, the fatal car accidents, the overdoses. My husband very rarely talks about his calls – especially the bad ones – because he doesn’t want me to worry. He tries not to take his work home with him, but I know that what he’s been through on the job gravely affects him. Since we have two young boys of our own, the 9-1-1 calls that involve children are usually the ones that rattle him the most. Drownings. Seizures. Abuse. These memories haunt him and remind him daily just how precious life is.
A firefighter friend of mine once told me that firefighters have a “mental file cabinet.” And when they experience trauma, they place that memory into a folder and file it away in their cabinet under lock and key. The file is stored away where no one can see it…but it never truly goes away.
Not seeing what my husband endures as a firefighter only makes me value his job even more. However, I now realize that that is not the popular opinion among most constituents.
My two sons have no aspirations to be firefighters when they grow up. Then again, why should they when they could throw a football and make millions of dollars as a professional athlete? Athletes have it all – fame, fortune and the adoration of their fans. It’s sad to live in a world where athletes, reality stars and YouTube celebrities are what our children aspire to be when they grow up and not teachers, police officers, nurses and first responders. Why work tirelessly in a thankless, underpaid job when you could be the next great social media influencer?
What will it take for our taxpayers and fellow constituents to understand the real worth of our firefighters?
I’ll tell you when it will happen:
When your grandfather falls down a flight of stairs and splits his head open.
When your wife of 57 years drops to the floor of a massive heart attack.
When your teenage son get hits by a drunk driver going the wrong way on the highway.
When your home – with all your worldly possessions, including your beloved golden retriever – is engulfed in flames.
When your granddaughter’s foot gets pinned against the pool ladder and she hasn’t come up for air in 10 minutes.
I wouldn’t wish any of these emergencies upon my greatest enemy. But when this happens, and it’s my husband’s job to desperately try to save your loved one, perhaps then you will see a firefighter’s worth.