My husband is an SSO at one of New Zealand’s busiest fire stations. We don’t take his work seriously at home. We throw around light hearted quips, tease him, and banter about rescuing ducklings, their huge roast dinners, watching movies in their matching lazy boy armchairs and their daily coffee run. Why do we do this?
Because the reality is too hard. Because I can’t think about him doing his actual work without feeling anxiety. Because I can’t say ‘goodbye honey, have a nice day’ in the mornings if I’m worrying about him not coming home. I changed jobs once because my office was in the Strand and I couldn’t bear to watch the truck go past with lights and siren multiple times per day. It’s much easier to think that it’s ducklings, coffee runs and movies with the crew.
My husband is a career firefighter but has also been a volunteer. His father is a retired firefighter. Our closest friends are firefighters and their families. We’re all used to nights alone, 80 hour weeks, short notice overtimes and having our loved ones away for every birthday, Christmas and special event. We’re all used to being chronically short of money and needing those overtime shifts to pay for essentials. Sadly, we’re used to many of our families not surviving this pressure.
Sometimes, over family breakfast or dinner, my husband tells stories about his day. Sometimes, I’ve looked at our children’s faces and quickly changed the topic of conversation. Sometimes he’ll come home very quiet and go straight to our room. I’ll ask him, ‘are we talking today, or not talking?’ Mostly it’s not talking, but when he does talk, the things he tells me stay with me a long time. I’m not sure how to process what he tells me. I’m not sure how he processes what he’s experienced, and yet still get up and go back to work day after day.
The qualities of a firefighter run deep in the blood. Skills can be taught, experience can be gained, but that inner drive to serve, to do their duty and to help others is fundamental to who they are.
Tomorrow, my husband and his colleagues will leave their fire stations while on duty and walk across the road for one hour. Can you even imagine how strongly they must believe in something to stand aside for one hour? When enough is enough.
What do they want?
- Fair pay
- Better staffing levels
- Reasonable working hours
- Trucks that work
- Equipment that functions.
- Medical support for work-related health conditions including cancer, emotional trauma and PTSD
In the meantime, we’ll be the ones making jokes about rescuing ducklings, and sitting quietly listening at the end of another long hard day.
We have their backs New Zealand… do you?