Two in, two out: maintaining your marriage in the fire service
Your partner at home can be your best resource in regard to your mental health
By Lieutenant Brad Bouchillon, contributor to In Public Safety
Within the fire service, there is a general understanding that no task is done by one individual. You clean the station as a crew, you wash the rig as a crew, and you put fires out as a crew.
I did not fully comprehend this concept when I first interviewed for a job at the fire department I work at now. When asked a question about completing tasks, I said that I work best alone. What I meant is that if it was some sort of remedial task, such as organizing paperwork or making a purchase order for new equipment, I would rather just do it myself and do it the best way I see fit. Conversely, if it is a major task, such as putting a fire out, I would much rather work as a team. Nevertheless, that answer initially cost me the job and simultaneously taught me a life lesson – working as a team is paramount, especially in our line of work. Luckily, I returned a year later for another interview and successfully got the job as a firefighter for the City of Statesboro (Georgia) Fire Department.
Several years after being on the job and enjoying working with a great crew, I met the love of my life and became part of another crew. My wife is my best friend and always has my back. We have not faced one thing in life alone since meeting one another. While the divorce rate for firefighters (14.1 percent) is not any higher than the general population, firefighters face a considerable amount of stress and have to work even harder to maintain strong and healthy relationships.
The biggest and most consistent problem in EMS/the fire service is communication. Reviewing any near-miss report or line-of-duty death will undoubtedly lead you to some paragraph that discusses how communication was a problematic factor in the incident. Around the station, common misunderstandings often create issues among shifts or between line personnel and administrative members.
This epidemic of miscommunication is not restricted to the firehouse. How many times have you had a major argument with your significant other where the root cause stems from either not communicating correctly or not communicating at all? I am just as guilty as anyone else for this. It has taken almost six years of marriage for my wife to get me to understand the importance of telling her what is on my mind and to express stress from work. For years, I bottled my stress up and attempted to mask it. This works well until something happens, and a minor discussion becomes a full-on, hypertensive argument with raised-voices and loss of rational thinking.
Our significant others cannot understand the stress we face at work if we do not relay the information to them. I am not saying to expose them to any gruesome details about a call or even discuss the nature of any calls; a simple statement such as “Hey honey, I had a really rough shift yesterday so I apologize if I am on edge or not myself today,” goes a long, long way.
For some of us males in fire/EMS, too often, we are quick to jump at the chance to meet the guys at the local bar or even go fishing all day. Yet, we often fall short of making the effort to spend quality time with our most important crew member. My wife has no problem with me going fishing, hunting or hanging out at one of the guys’ house for some burgers on the grill. However, she also hopes that I am equally willing to take her to see that new romantic comedy or even just cook a meal at the house and eat at a candle-lit dining table instead of in front of the TV. This is really not a hard task to complete. I would be the first to admit that I do fall short at times.
Mental health vs. marriage
This was not intended to be a marriage counseling article, but a reminder to take care of your best resource in regard to your mental well-being. A spouse is far more than someone to help pay bills and take the kids to practice; they are your counsel, your shoulder to cry on and ears to listen to you.
Marriage is not always perfect and pretty, but, at the end of the day, you have to put it first and make sure you take good care of it. Otherwise, just like that rig you take to a call or that equipment you pull off of it, if it is not well maintained, it will fall apart. At the end of all of the stress from work (rough calls, aggravating supervisors, etc.) your spouse will be there for you. And I don’t know about you, but that is one way to keep a guy who runs into burning buildings for a living sane.
At the end of the day, if you do not take care of your mental health, your marriage can suffer. And if you do not take care of your marriage, your mental health can suffer. Thus, find that happy balance between family, work and play. Just like an emergency incident, size any problems up, prioritize needs, and complete the objectives. If first responders are able mitigate intense emergencies, I have full faith that we can handle our marriages too.
About the author
Brad Bouchillon has been working for the City of Statesboro Fire Department for 10 years full-time and has held the rank of lieutenant for 4 years. He has also worked as a lifeguard for Tybee Island Ocean Rescue and as an EMT part-time for Screven County EMS. Brad holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with a specialization in Crisis Counseling. He is also starting his Masters of Arts program in the fall of 2018 in Human Services Counseling with a Crisis Response and Trauma Cognate. He is married to his wife Megan of five years and they have a one-year-old son. To contact the author, please email IPSauthor@apus.edu. To receive more articles like this in your inbox, please sign up for In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.