I met my husband before he was a firefighter and within the first few weeks of meeting him he had expressed that firefighting was the job for him. It was something he always wanted to do, a position where he’d be able to help his community, be of service and be part of a team. The kind of person he is makes him especially suited to this role.
He has now been a career firefighter for nearly 10 years.
When he first began the job Firefighters didn’t respond to cardiac arrests.
I can still remember the day he went to his first suicide. I remember, because my battery died, I had a full day of work, he couldn’t get hold of me and then went on to do the overtime night shift. By the time he came home the following morning, he had found a way to cope which did not involve me. At this point in time, FENZ had no psychological help available.
For a few years, there was only a number they could call. I’m pretty sure that to put the onus on the firefighters – who pride themselves on being unshakeable and strong – to make the first move in accessing help was a huge mistake. I’m sure some did reach out, but the level of help that is required and the frequency of it, was nowhere near reached. It still isn’t.
The job is shift work, long hours. One week there were three hangings his crew had to go to over 2 days. As well as spending over 40 mins performing CPR on a person who has had a heart attack. This is, unfortunately, not unusual. There are no counselling sessions and no mandatory procedural stand down times.
Due to the price of housing where we live, to be able to afford to buy, we now live a 40 minute drive away from the fire station – in good traffic. Lots of his co-workers are in the same situation. So if he works a 24 hour shift, and factors in driving he’s effectively working a 25hr20min day, possibly having faced major trauma, exhaustion and physically, mentally and emotionally draining work.
Add in the rising cost of fuel to that. Plus the wear and tear and maintenance on the vehicle.
We now have a young family and they adore their Dad. He’s a wonderful Husband and Dad, and I see it hurt him that he can’t be here as much as he would like to be, because he will always take the overtime to provide for our family, which is a cycle because then ultimately he spends less time with our family and then is also more tired when he is around us.
He is the main breadwinner in our home, so we pay – the only insurance company that will insure firefighters – a huge amount each week to cover him so we won’t lose our home and we’ll be able to feed ourselves should he develop PTSD, be unable to work physically or need surgery that ACC won’t cover.
He loves the job. He loves his co-workers. Nobody walks into this job expecting to earn megabucks. A fair wage, cover for hazards both mental and physical they are exposed to and working equipment to keep them – and their communities safe – should be a bare minimum.