A few years ago on vacation, I sat on a tiny island while being hit by a Category 4 hurricane. To me, while I know logically there are worse, it says to me, “this one is bad, look out, take cover.” When I think of four alarms, the same severity registers; “look out, this one is bad.”
I’ve met so many amazing women who have dared to partner up with, raise families with, and commit to a life with a fire fighter or first responder. A life of waiting to know if their husbands will come home. After some time, I’ve heard the nerves lessen and it becomes normalized, but for those women who heard the knock on the door to inform them their spouses weren’t coming home, I can’t begin to imagine the devastation. I’ve watched wives sit together following a line of duty death and there’s an unspoken sentiment as they glance at each other, “It could’ve been one of us, and any day, it could still be one of us.”
So when it comes to mental health, behavioral health, PTSD, whatever you want to call it, I consider fire wives the “fourth alarm.” They tend to be quiet, let their spouses work through whatever happened in their shift, and provide support. I’ve also heard from wives that they intuitively knew when things started to get darker for their husbands. This morning I read an article on a fire wife, who lost her husband in the line of duty, who had started an organization to address the physical and mental impact of the job. This is not the first story of a wife moved to organize following the death of her spouse. I started working in fire service shortly following another local wife losing another husband. I sat through three weeks of a murder trial, providing clinicial support to the fallen’s brothers, with a fire widow two rows in front of me. You could feel the grief roll off her.
What I read each time is, they saw things in their firefighter husbands long before they said anything, giving them the space to handle it. Today, I know that when a wife speaks, we should listen. If she’s concerned, we all get to be concerned. If she asks her husband to get some help, it’s because she’s typically sat quietly assessing, giving that initial space, and she is now concerned enough to speak up and speak aloud. Trust her. Listen to her. And find a therapist.