Did you know that firefighters have one of the highest divorce rates of any profession? I know over the course of my career I saw the vast majority of my co-workers divorce (or break up long term relationships) at least once and in many circumstances saw some guys divorce multiple times.
I know my personal divorce rate is 100%. I was married twice over the course of my career. My first marriage was at the outset of my career, I was very young and so was she. We knew each other from my off duty job. Most firefighters have second jobs in case you didn’t know.
My second job was as a bouncer at a very popular bar. On weekends this particular bar had a line that stretched for a city block of people waiting to get in and I was the gatekeeper on many Friday and Saturday nights.
My first wife was very young, actually underage to drink at the time. She was a tall blonde, very outgoing, very fun and the life of the party much like me. There are fringe benefits when you are the girlfriend of the gatekeeper, you get in without waiting, your drinks are on the house, and as an attractive woman in a very competitive environment you are relatively safe from unwanted advances.
We hit it off and not long after that and when she was old enough, she began to work at the same club as a bartender. We moved in together and after a few years together we married, we had a ton of fun together and to this day some of my fondest memories of my life have their roots in our time together.
We traveled to Mexico, Hawaii and spent a lot of time in Aspen, we camped out most of the summer in Colorado. She loved to entertain and we hosted many big parties and had friends and guests at our house all the time.
In hind sight I know now that I married her because it was easier to marry her than break up with her. I had in fact struck up a relationship with another tall blonde that worked at the same bar and had fallen in love with her. My soon to be wife had her suspicions and gave me an ultimatum. So we married and I ended up breaking the heart of another woman and became stuck in a marriage I never really wanted.
The stress of being a firefighter of working in a bar and being in an unwanted relationship lead to excessive drinking and a lot of out of control behavior. Our entire lives revolved around the bar industry, all our friends worked in that business and very few of my firefighter co-workers were part of that relationship.
We didn’t hang with firefighters and she didn’t get the trauma I was suffering at work, the answer to any bad day was to go party with our friends, there was always a party at hand. I don’t know if I was alcoholic at that point but I sure was a heavy drinker.
After 12 years of marriage things had broken down, I had been unfaithful she had been unfaithful and we divorced. Not happily but we hadn’t had children so once the issues of property and stuff were settled we went our separate ways and never really ran across each other again.
I crawled in the bottle for the next year or so. I began to run with my firefighting brothers at that time and we ran hard and fast. I have no idea how many meaningless romances I had, but there were many and I stayed drunk pretty much anytime I wasn’t at work.
I lived like a vagabond for many weeks, I stayed on couches of other firefighters, in the basements of others and many nights in the bed of the women I had picked-up that night.
There were so many of brothers in the fire service at that time that were in the exact same position. All of us were either getting divorced or had just gotten divorced we had a club and a floating group house were different firefighters would let you stay.
The attorney that handled my divorce was the wife of a fellow firefighter and her practice was booming. There was a wave of divorce washing over the job, it seemed every other day you heard of another marriage going under.
Quite a few of the guys in my recruit academy had been divorced by that time as I recall. There are these trends in the fire service I watched them come and go at regular intervals over my 30 year career.
There were the divorce waves, the marriage waves, the baby waves, the retirement waves and then back to the divorce wave. As soon as you heard the first rumor of so-and-so getting divorced the cascade of divorces began.
Being married to a firefighter has many challenges and I believe it takes a very special woman to be the spouse of one of us. We suffer from many work related problems, sleep deprivation, flashbacks of the horrible things we see, emotional unavailability, depression, drug and alcohol addiction, infidelity is rampant in emergency services, illness and injury are a constant threat. Of course everyday your man goes off to work there is that little voice in the back of your head that asks that same old question, will he come back tomorrow?
For many of us the fire service is our first love, an old familiar lover that never lets us down, that never fails to excite us and challenge us. She is a demanding lover and a jealous lover too. The siren that always beckons us to her flame and for some she consumes us.
But not me, I enjoyed my time at work but being a firefighter never defined me it was what I did not who I was. So my next big mistake was to change my romantic strategies, I decided my next best bet in the game of marriage was to marry another firefighter.
Surely another firefighter would be perfect. Who would better understand the life? Who could possibly be a better fit than that? So my second marriage was to a lady firefighter, what a terrible decision that was. I’ll tell you about that another day.