Lessons Learned After 5 Years as a Wildland Firefighter’s Wife {Part 1}

Lessons Learned After 5 Years as a Wildland Firefighter's Wife Feature Image

It was the spring of 2012 when Wildland Man got his first taste of fire. He was hooked immediately and ultimately began to pursue his passion in the field of wildland firefighting and prescribed burning.

You can read more about how we found ourselves in this reality by checking out the post, “Living the Fire Life.”

Not long after that initial experience, I found myself spending my first summer alone while Wildland Man fought wildfires out west. It was an adjustment I wasn’t quite prepared for. And, now, after five years in fire, I can say that while I am certainly more prepared for each fire season, that first fire call still stings just the same.

But, here’s what I can tell you…I’m learning. Each and every year, it doesn’t necessarily get any easier, but it does get more manageable. And after five years as a wildland firefighter’s wife, I really kinda feel like I got this thing down.

That is, until next fire season…

Lessons Learned

 So it could be that some of you are finding yourselves in a similar predicament. Maybe you aren’t married to a wildland firefighter, but a structural one who is on call at the firehouse for days at a time. Maybe your spouse is deployed so you go it alone for extensive periods of time. Perhaps your husband’s job just causes him to have to be on the road more than you’d like. Whatever situation you find yourself in, I hope you can relate to some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past five years and are able to apply them to your own specific circumstances.

1) Prepare for Fire Season: As fire season approaches, I find myself tying up loose ends that need to be taken care of before Wildland Man becomes MIA. Wildland Man is a procrastinator by nature, while I’m the one that is always thinking ahead. So when we are a couple months out from the thick of fire season, I’ll start looking ahead on the calendar and pushing a little harder for our to-do list around the house to get completed. Often times I just need to remind Wildland Man how close we are to fire season and he’ll work hard to accomplish whatever I’m asking. He gets it. And he knows I’m stuck handling all of it alone when he is out on a fire.

Wildland Fire Gear Image

I also like to take a weekend to help Wildland Man go through all of his fire gear before the fire season starts. It is usually a quick process because most everything is still in it from the previous season, but some things might need replaced and it gives Wildland Man peace of mind to know everything is where it needs to be if he gets called out unexpectedly. Besides, taking a weekend early on to get everything in its place means that when he does get called out to a fire we can cherish our last moments together rather than running around ragged trying to get all his gear situated. It’s a huge stress-saver.

2) Lower Your Expectations: Whenever I am making plans for holidays, vacations, or just the weekend…I just don’t get my hopes up. If it is fire season, at any given moment those plans will change. Lowering my expectations of grand adventures allows me to just be grateful for those times I do have my hubby around. I do my best to be supportive and understanding when a fire call comes in that changes our plans. Wildland Man doesn’t want to screw up our plans on purpose, so I just don’t waste the energy of being angry or sad because I let myself get my hopes up during fire season. I just know better than to do that anymore. This mindset shift has also allowed me to truly cherish the little moments we do have together.

3) Communicate Your Needs: So, men… they aren’t mind-readers. And when you throw in a long-distance aspect to a relationship they can be even more oblivious to our emotional needs. There’s no sugar-coating or romancing this concept, it is simply to communicate your needs to one another. I gave up on hoping Wildland Man could figure out what I was needing to feel loved on a particular day at that given moment. Now, don’t get me wrong, my husband knows me…better than anyone else, but it just wasn’t fair for me to expect him to know my needs without sharing them with him.

And, this may sound crazy, but when I told him what I needed, he fulfilled that need! No more sulking around because he didn’t speak my love language the right way or hug me when I was upset. Communication is beautiful, really.

So, I’ve learned just lay it out there. I have been known to put a stamp in Wildland Man’s wallet and tell him to find somewhere to buy a card on his way to a detail that he can mail back home to me. And though I am expecting a card to arrive at some point while he is gone, it still surprises me every time when I open my mailbox to find it. And his heartfelt words always seem to come just when I’m missing him the most.

We’ve read the “The Five Love Languages” and I’ve shared how wonderful I think this book is in my post titled, “The Country Wife Recommends…Christian Marriage Resources.” Needless to say, sometimes Wildland Man needs reminding of what he can do, especially from afar with limited resources, to speak my love language. We have to get creative, but it always helps to give each other specific ideas to keep the fire alive in our marriage.

Five Love Languages Books Image

4) Perfect the Long Distance Thing: Ugh, long distance. Wildland Man and I spent over half of our dating years doing the long distance thing. And while we got pretty good at it, I never expected to have to do it again once we were married. But here I am today, honing my long distance relationship skills. The kicker is this time around; Wildland Man is not nearly as available to talk with me on the phone as he was when we were dating.

Now I wait for him to call, praying he’ll have service so that he can even call in the first place. And telling myself the days I don’t hear from him are “no news is good news” days. When he does call it is often with only a few minutes to spare and at the oddest times; early in the morning, late late at night, or a random mid-day five minutes.

I’ve learned to keep my phone on me at all times and answer regardless of where I am. I will always preface social situations with the fact that I may need to step away to answer a call so as to try not to be rude about it, but my marriage takes precedence and I won’t miss a call from him for social niceties. I just won’t.

With that said, most of his calls come after I’m already in bed or before I wake up, which throws in the reality that I’m sleepy and out of it, Wildland Man is likely exhausted as well, and I’ve probably forgotten everything I wanted to talk to him about anyway. This is where my secret weapon comes into play: a small notepad that stays with my phone and by my side throughout the day. All day long I simply jot down things I think of that I’d usually chat with Wildland Man about. This way, rather than finding myself sharing these little life moments with someone other than my husband, I just grab my list, no matter what time he calls, and I can share it all with him, even if it isn’t freshly on my mind. This little trick keeps us feeling connected even when there are miles between us.

5) Get Comfortable with Being Alone: I was always an independent girl growing up, going stag to school functions never bothered me, I never wanted to be tied down. Being alone was totally cool. Then I got married, to my very best friend, and all of sudden being alone feels really lonely. I didn’t expect that. I had to relearn what it felt like to be alone. And I’m still working on getting comfortable with it.

Of course I can fill up my days so as to not be so lonely, and I do find myself doing more things socially; meeting up for coffee with friends or attending functions I may otherwise not attend. But it doesn’t matter how full my schedule is, when Wildland Man is away, there will be times of silence that sneak up on me. I can pop in a movie, work more hours on the blog, spend more time in the Word, but the busy always gives way to quiet at some point.

And rather than trying to avoid the silence, I’m learning to embrace it. I can treasure the utterances of nature while sitting on my deck with no one to talk to. I can appreciate the creaks and thumps of an empty house I never pay that much attention to. And I can discover a lot about myself when I’m alone with my own thoughts.

Other Suggestions…

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the past five years as a wildland firefighter’s wife. I can personally attest to the fact that preparing for the fire season, lowering my expectations, communicating my needs to Wildland Man, perfecting our long-distance calls, and getting comfortable with being all by my lonesome has drastically improved how I handle the fire season.

My next post, “Lessons Learned After 5 Years as a Wildland Firefighter’s Wife {Part 2},” will round out my list of top 10 lessons learned. I sure hope they have been helpful to those of you in similar circumstances. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but these things have worked for us in our situation.

I would absolutely love to hear some of your suggestions if you can relate to this fire life at all. What lessons have your learned in your personal experience?

Join in on the conversation by commenting below:

  • What are the pros to your unique lifestyle, be it the Fire Life, Military Life, Lineman Life, etc.?

  • What would you say are the cons to living a lifestyle like this?

  • How do you find balance in it all?

Thanks for sharing!

Be Still & Know…

the Country Wife signature for the Country Wife Chronicles blog

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