By Derek Rosenfeld
FDIC International has always been the nation’s premier venue for fire service training, knowledge, and experimentation. From hands-on training to leadership to all manner of fireground tactics, there is no better arena for a member to step in to learn more about his trade than in Indianapolis during this one week in April.
However, among the many new and progressive classroom sessions introduced at FDIC International 2018, few, if any, strove to initiate a conversation on a more complex off-duty topic than “The Challenges of Firefighter Marriage,” presided over by Seattle (WA) Fire Department Captain Mike Gagliano and his wife Anne, who bravely stepped out from her FireLife.com column to lead this discussion on the misunderstandings, lessons learned, and positive and negative aspects of what it means to be married to a firefighter.
“About 12 years ago, Mike made captain and was assigned to the Joint Training Facility [JTF] as the training captain. He had been a firefighter for many years before the promotiion, as he wanted to be around to raise our boys. However, once you become an officer, your schedule changes,” Anne said. “Now at the JTF, he was running into firefighters he hadn’t seen in a very long time and meeting lots of new ones.”
She continued, “As he reconnected with old buddies and got to know new ones, he noticed an alarming trend: many of these men were divorcing or had divorced already, some for the second and even third time! This broke his heart, and he didn’t know what marital advice to give to those requesting it, so he asked me.”
Here, Anne talks about how she and Mike first met and their early lives together:
“As a longtime firefighter spouse, did I have any ideas as to why firefighters might be hard to live with? My answer was a resounding “yes.” That’s how my original article, published in Fire Engineering, came about. This led to my marriage column on Firelife.com, our current class, and our new book,” Anne said.
She continued, “Firefighters encounter extraordinary pressure. If their home life is healthy and strong, they will better perform and endure long-term. If it is crumbling, the effect can be catastrophic, even life-threatening. Divorce is the number-one catalyst to suicide. And tragically, we’re seeing a lot of suicide in the fire service; I personally know of three that were a direct result of divorce.”
Anne continued, “In our class we go through the three aspects that make firefighting different from any other profession and explain how these directly impact marriage and family life. The key to any successful marriage is good communication, so I have developed five essential conversations I believe every firefighter couple should have that help them address these challenges. These are all based on our personal experience and what has worked (or not worked) for us.”
Here, Anne and Mike discuss the lack of firefighter divorce rate data available to help with their studies:
“I have one piece of advice: For marriage to not only survive but thrive, communication stemming from a selfless attitude and an understanding heart is absolutely paramount.”
Here, Anne talks about the dangerous aspects of firefighting that firefighter spouses must come to grips with and accept for any marriage to work:
Anne concluded, “I’ve been coming to FDIC since 2008 when Mike was the keynote speaker and the year he launched his book, Air Management for the Fire Service. He and the other ‘Seattle Guys’ also won the Tom Brennan training award at that time. This year I get to see my book launched and am thrilled to actually hold it for the very first time. It’s almost like cradling your newborn baby! Lots of painful labor to get there, but oh, so worth it! I also particularly love seeing everybody. As Paul Combs so aptly stated, “It’s like Christmas and Easter and 4th of July all at once!”
To purchase Mike’s and Anne’s book, visit http://www.pennwellbooks.com/shop-fire-books-videos/new-products/challenges-of-the-firefighter-marriage.