Marital Teamwork at Its Finest, Down Under

By Anne Gagliano

An amazing discovery my husband Mike and I have made as we’ve taught all across this great land of ours is how incredible firefighters really, truly are—everywhere we go. That enthusiastic, passionate spirit of service, loyalty, courage and honor exists in all departments of every city, town, and state, from Alaska to Florida, Hawaii to Virginia, Minnesota to South Carolina. The heart of the fire service is shared and felt and lived by all. There is an instant connection as we meet firefighters when we travel that turns these new acquaintances into immediate family.

But what is even cooler still is that we’ve learned that this same firefighter heart exists outside our great country. Long ago, Mike was once contacted on the Internet by a stranger from a strange land—an “Aussie” no less (slang for Australian). When Mike first started writing about air management in Fire Engineering, which apparently is read in Australia, this Aussie became interested in Mike’s views on the topic. Sharing Mike’s passion for the fire service, he struck up a dialogue that continued as they exchanged ideas oceans, continents, and time zones apart.

Then one day this audacious Aussie called us from a pay phone not many miles from our home, asking for directions to come visit us. We could barely understand him through his thick accent but doing the best we could, we relayed what we hoped were adequate street names and such, not sure if he was really comprehending or if he would even show up. But to our utter surprise, he did!  All the way from Ipswich, Australia, Captain Phil Paff and his lovely, sweet, beautiful wife Emma stood at our front door. Unbelievable. By evening’s end, accents and cultural differences aside, we had gone from complete and total strangers to more than just friends; we’d become as family. The fire service has this indescribable effect.

A few years later (after Mike included Phil’s Australian perspective in his Air Management for the Fire Service book), Captain Paff helped arrange for us, as well as other members of the FireSmoke Coalition, to come to Australia to teach. Amazing. Now we stood, all the way from Seattle, at their front door. We got to break bread with friends/firefighter family down under. Phil was in the process of building something for Emma, and he couldn’t wait to show it to us. Proudly supporting his beloved bride’s dreams, he was constructing, mostly unaided, an entire building that housed a professional bakery complete with showroom for customers. It was stunning and impressive, to say the least.

And a few years after that, as Mike and I began writing our book on firefighter marriage, we gathered some of our favorites together with the task of adding sidebars to the book. We asked Phil and Emma to chime in. To our delight, the emphasis of their contribution was on teamwork, of supporting the spouse’s profession–not just the firefighter’s. This is a portion of what they wrote:

Most importantly – we are of different skills, but we are equals

     Being a Firefighter is not just a career for many, but a calling.

     This is a truly noble undertaking, but with that it can be all consuming and dominate not only a Firefighter’s life but that of their family.

     In many ways we define ourselves as Firefighters and not as regular people that happen to be Firefighters.

     Our families, our partners have jobs, careers, pursuits and aspirations of their own. We must (truly) respect and support those aspirations, as being a tag-along partner to everything “Fire” may not be their main focus.

     Support your partner, as they do us, in their pursuits.

     Emma is a self-employed Patisserie Chef that creates truly extraordinary cakes for any occasion. With the training and level of commitment required it is very much a profession as that of being a Firefighter. My mind boggles with her creations and the level of realism and detail they contain. Some of which at times also seem to defy gravity!

     Emma supports everything I do as a Firefighter. She not only understands the “job” but also the “brotherhood.” It is just as important that I support Emma with her career, and with that I mean an authentic and non-patronising support. Recently Emma won state Patisserie Chef of the year; I was so proud to see all her hard work culminate in that one moment.

     As a couple nothing is one sided, she chose me as much as I chose her, we’re a team. So when Emma embarked on this career path we as a couple had to build it up, that meant building a professional kitchen for baking and a studio for customers (all this in the backyard!).

     Fast forward 3 years and everything’s going gangbusters, now the challenge for us is striking a balance with work and life. For us that can mean setting some small but important rules, such as no mobile phones at the dinner table or after 7 o’clock. Our electronically connected society places unnecessary pressures on people to reply to anything at all hours, we put those devices aside at night because it’s our time to share a meal and talk (a dying art it would appear).

     In the photo is a cake Emma produced for the 150th anniversary of my fire department. She recreated an antique brass fire helmet and length of hose, absolutely everything was edible including the “water” from the hose end!

As firefighters and firefighter spouses, we share a bond and a heart and a love for this incredible calling. We share it locally, statewide, and nationally. And we even share it internationally, this love of the service, as well as the love of our first family, our first relationship—our spouses. Take a bit of advice from our dear Aussie brother and remember to elevate your spouse’s career as well.

Marriage at its best is all about teamwork. Give and take. Sacrifice, sharing, and reciprocating. As you gaze at Emma’s amazing, realistic cake—note the artistry, the attention to detail, the skill. But think on this as well: the teamwork this cake represents. Phil built the kitchen where it was created—and Emma (a.k.a. The Cake Lady) poured all her talent into baking a symbolic, celebratory masterpiece of confection for Phil’s fire department. Beautiful and heart-warming, inspirational and masterful, marital teamwork at its finest, down under.


Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 32 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.

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