Above, L-R: Briana Posner and her father, Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Captain (Ret.) Mike Posner.
By Briana Posner
Sickly sweet smoke smothers my father’s gray polo shirt. The Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue logo embroidered on the front scratches my cheek as I bury my head in his chest. I hear the fire helmet charm on his gold chain swing around his neck when he leans into my mother’s messy curls and kisses her for the first time in over 24 hours.
I’m five or six or seven years old when I remember this. I grew up seeing my father 48 hours at a time. The 24-hour breaks between bedtime stories, homework help, after-school library visits, and family dinners were when he put on his superhero costume, his bunker gear. My father was the go-to person for career day and fire safety visits throughout elementary school, where my classmates had the opportunity to see a real-life superhero and I had a few extra hours to see my dad.
When his time running calls and saving lives intersected with holidays, my mom packed me—and eventually my baby brother—into the car and drove the hour to whichever fire station my dad was working at. Instead of a square table in the kitchen with four neatly folded napkins and a no-TV rule, dinner at the station was held at long tables and mismatched recliners, the TV blared voices of sports announcers, and napkins sat in wicker baskets or wire holders. I listened to my father’s fire station family prattle about the calls they went on that shift or who was responsible for collecting the kitty. I looked for a fluffy kitten under the fire truck in the bay before my dad explained they meant the bucket of money everyone adds to as a way to pay for dinner.
I’m 21 now, and I’ve taken to telling my college roommates to “kitty up” if I’m cooking dinner. Sadly, none of them searched for a non-existent dorm-room kitten the way I had. Explaining what I was talking about opened conversation for all the different things I experienced growing up as a fireman’s daughter.
I was born in Florida as the daughter of Michael and Stacey Posner, two grossly-in-love parents whose bond rivals that of Gomez and Morticia Adams. I’m a sister to one older and one younger brother—though I wanted a little sister, I wouldn’t trade these two for anything; Granddaughter of several grandparents who fed me oven-baked potatoes, let me use markers instead of crayons, and let me run wild in book stores.
My family is not limited by blood. My family includes the men and women who showed up at the hospital when I was born. When I was sick, and my father was at work, and my mother was scared, my family was the firefighter who came to the house and helped my mother cook dinner. When my father had surgery, and my mother was terrified he wouldn’t wake up, my family was the firefighters who kept us busy, who kept a smile on my face and held my mother’s hand, who gave her the support she needed to stay strong while he recovered.
My family also includes the man who gets excited over the vivid rainbow that has become my hair. When most people would put me down for dying my hair funky colors, family encourages my wildness and freedom. Family calls me “Purple Head” and waits patiently for my dad to send him updated photos of my lilac locks.
When I was 13, my father met a man from the Wyckoff (NJ) Fire Department. People call him Joey Alvarez or “Big City Joe,” but I just call him Uncle Joey.
Uncle Joey is the family who stood by my dad’s side when my middle and high school crushes broke my heart. He gave me advice that helped ease the teenage heartache, and he gave us homemade zeppole dipped in chocolate when he visited.
Uncle Bob Carpenter shared his love of literature and writing. Every short story, poem, or essay I wrote for school was shared with him. I like to believe that he’s one of the reasons I study creative writing in college. Whether I wrote a story about bullying bunnies, a newspaper article about suicide awareness, or a lengthy essay on the jargon in my overpriced textbooks, Uncle Bob gave me advice and grammar assistance. His excitement and support for my love of language nurtured my plans of pursuing a writing and editing career.
When my older brother graduated from the fire academy and joined the Davie Fire Department, he introduced me to the young woman who became not only one of my best friends, but also my sister. Carley Moore-Ventre shimmied and danced into my life to the soundtrack of Taylor Swift. When I failed my dual-enrollment math course in high school, she rushed to the house, hung up snowflake string lights in my bedroom, and left a note on a Frozen napkin telling me that failures don’t define me. She taught me how to let go of the stress in my life one Black Friday in the Target parking lot by blasting “Shake It Off” from the car’s speakers and having an impromptu dance party. This woman became the sister I never had, and I wouldn’t have found her without my firefighter family.
My father became more involved with the firefighting community as I grew up. He began teaching at the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference (FDIC International) and created projects and presentations for other teaching opportunities. With these classes came speaking events and fancy dinners that our family attended together.
My penchant for English and writing prompted dad to practice his speeches with me. I watched him type it out, enlarge the font to 14 or 16, and mark with pen the places he needed to slow down or take a breath. I helped him organize his thoughts and we wrote his speeches. He taught me how to write for your audience, and how it’s okay to change your mind halfway through writing. He showed me that nerves are nothing to be afraid of and taught me the confidence needed behind public speaking.
I laughed about his speech antics at first, but when I needed to present my own for school functions I paid special attention. I followed his steps: type it out, enlarge the text, write notes in the margins. My dad walked me through the jitters of presenting my first speech as an editor for my high school literary magazine. And then he walked me through my editor-in-chief speech and my audition speech for the arts high school I transferred to.
I had the chance to build my relationship with editing when he shared his projects and documents with me. The speeches we worked on together opened the door to looking over his e-mails and letters and PowerPoints—oh, my! I learned about my father’s world of firefighting and elevator safety, and he saw my passion for writing and editing develop over the years. We became such a team that he wouldn’t send anything off until I reviewed it first.
The events my family attended opened the door to proper etiquette. I was used to cafeteria or library banquets with paper tablecloths, lightbulb heated food, plastic cutlery, casual dress, and scratched CD music. When the fire department threw a shindig, I walked into a whole new world. This was a world of heavy fabric table cloths, bright silver catered platters, sturdy cutlery, formal attire, and bagpipes. At these events I learned how to act like a civilized young adult rather than a rambunctious teenager. Following my mother’s footsteps, I pushed my shoulders back, walked with grace—as much grace as a 14-year-old in heels can—and listened to the bagpipes play beautiful music.
As a firefighter’s daughter, I put on a nice dress, glittering jewelry, shimmer lip gloss, and pretended my dad was the king of the party. I had my Cinderella moments and imagined I was a princess. I imagined that the dances I shared with my firefighter family were part of an extravagant ball and had the opportunity to live out my childhood dream of acting like royalty.
Pushing past the fantastical elements of how I grew up, these events prepared me for the “real world.” I was prepared for dressing and acting respectable in the public’s eye. I learned how to converse and network and be social. I was never the social butterfly that my friends were, and I never wanted to talk with my peers because I didn’t enjoy video games or sports or practical jokes. But when I attended these events with my firefighter family, I became a new person. I was someone who spoke eloquently about school, my student newspaper and literary magazine, plans for college, and the books I was reading.
I didn’t grow up a typical kid in South Florida. I grew up a fireman’s daughter who experienced life through adventures at the fire station and with familial bonds that extend across the nation. There were times where I didn’t see my father for days—I didn’t see him for weeks after 9/11 when he offered his services to the men and women of New York City—and there were holidays spent away from home, but I wouldn’t want to change a single day of my childhood. Now that my father has retired after 30 years of service, I realize how appreciative and proud I am of the lifestyle that shaped the young woman I have become.
This is my Cinderella story, and I am living happily ever after.
Briana Posner is a writer and the daughter of a firefighter.