Fire Life

A Firefighter Wife’s Guide to Surviving FDIC International 2017

By Anne Gagliano

I am attending FDIC with my firefighter husband Mike this year. You wives who know what FDIC is might be wondering why in the world I would even consider doing such a thing. And for those of you who don’t know what it is, let me attempt to explain.

FDIC stands for Fire Department Instructor Conference, which is owned by PennWell Corp./Fire Engineering. It is held annually in Indianapolis, Indiana, and it’s a pretty big deal. Firefighters from all over the world attend. It is their Disneyland, their Mecca, their migratory instinct. They come to take classes from world-class fire instructors and to do other stuff too. It is part summer camp, part family reunion, and part reformatory school for wayward boys and girls. In other words, it is very hard to define, as it is an experience that defies simple explanation. I have gone more than five times now, so I consider myself somewhat of an expert.

I was a Camp Fire Girl as a child and, like Girl Scouts, we learned to be prepared for just about any situation–particularly situations that require survival skills. With that mindset instilled in me from a young age, I have put together a guide as I brace myself for yet another trip; and I’m hoping to extend my hard-earned wisdom to other wives who may be considering attending this year. If you do go, I hope the following tips will be a helpful guide to surviving FDIC 2017.

Be prepared to entertain yourself. Yes, this is a trip that I’m taking with my husband, but in all honesty, we won’t be together that much. He’ll be off doing his thing–teaching, attending other classes, and reconnecting with his cherished buddies. I’ll do some of this too as I promote Fire Life and visit with the few girls there (like the women behind FDIC, Diane Rothschild and Ginger Mendolia). I hang with Mike a bit, and he welcomes my presence, but I’ll choose to opt out a lot too. I must let him off the leash or else he’ll drive us both crazy. And that’s okay, because I am an expert at entertaining myself.

There is a lovely mall in downtown Indianapolis. I’m quite familiar with it. There are numerous excellent restaurants, all within easy walking distance. The hotels are nice. The weather is usually very nice. And the atmosphere feels safe, as on every street large packs of firefighters roam. If I were to fall and stub my toe, I’d instantly be surrounded by EMS and the like, ready to offer expert assistance.

I bring many books and catch up on my reading. I take long, luxurious baths and even do my nails. It is a vacation for me, and I love it.

Be prepared for extra baggage at the airport. I suggest you bring an extra suitcase—an empty one—for two reasons. One, because of the aforementioned shopping at the local mall; and two, because of what your firefighter will acquire.

This is Disneyland for them; that means souvenirs: T-shirts, coins, books, and all kinds of gear available throughout the conference. It’s a firefighter wonderland with fire stuff galore!  Yours will go a little nuts. If you don’t bring an empty bag, you will be forced to buy one; I know this from personal experience.

Be prepared to represent your country. Mike and I have had the pleasure of bonding with firefighters from all over America at FDIC  and, incredibly, from all over the world. In the picture is a prime example: Our buddy Phil Paff (at right in photo) attends from Australia. At FDIC, you get to see what other countries’ firefighters are like and, let me tell you, they’re pretty much like ours–awesome in every way.

Be prepared to be shocked. Men in kilts. Bagpipes in restaurants. Roving gangs of firefighters milling about all over town laughing and cheering with loud tomfoolery. Crowds of epic proportions. Fire trucks, fire engines, sirens—drums and lights and pandemonium, yet somehow orderly as only firefighters seem to be able to pull off. The atmosphere is electric.

And the biggest surprise of all: no lines in the ladies room. In fact, they are often completely empty!  All the lines are for the men’s room, as men outnumber women about a hundred to one. It’s all rather shocking for a woman to witness–all that testosterone in one place. A bit of a jolt to the system, really.

Be prepared to be charmed. My firefighter is starstruck at FDIC. His heroes congregate in this magical place: fire legends such as the “Johns” (Mittendorf, Norman, and Salka). And Al Brunacini, the only one allowed to defy the dress code. Dave Dodson, Rick Lasky, Billy Goldfeder. Buddies Mike Dugan, Paul Combs, Dave Rhodes, Eddie Buchanan, Anthony Avillo, Frank Ricci, Mike Ciampo, Frank Viscuso, Kevin Shea. And the Big Kahuna himself, the man who runs the whole show, Bobby Halton. These are but the names I can remember; there are so many more. Mike is awed, impressed, humbled to be in their mighty presence.

As for me?  I’m charmed. Charmed to my soul, especially by Bill Gustin and Jim Duffy. To me, these legendary firefighters are simply chivalrous, gallant gentlemen. I’m not sure who does what class, or how they earned their stripes; I just know they’re impressive. And very charming.

Be prepared to be moved. Carry tissues with you at all times. If you sit in on a class especially. Opening ceremonies, for sure. The ceremony, the honors paid, the tragedies told. The line-of-duty deaths; this is the place where the fallen are featured and remembered as the bagpipes play.

This is tough stuff for a firefighter spouse to witness. To have our worst fears displayed, the realities of this dangerous profession brought to light. It may be a good reason for a firefighter wife not to go.

But be of good cheer; in this place, such realities are addressed. In fact, it is the primary reason for FDIC: to prevent further loss. To train, teach, raise up future generations that will not suffer the same fate as past ones. Where the wisdom of the experienced is shared with the less experienced. As iron sharpens iron, both will become sharper, stronger, better.

Firefighting is a noble, self-sacrificing profession. It is incredibly powerful to watch these brave souls gather together in such large numbers to lift each other up. That’s why, why in the world, I go.


Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 31 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.