When you’re the woman in a firefighter’s life, it’s easy to get distracted by the depictions of the fire life in movies and television shows. It seems as though they all have a woman on the side or are indulging in flirting gone-too-far at the local bar. It’s easy to get burdened by the modern “groupie” mentality that exists around firemen. As a matter of fact, I am extremely bothered by the fact that you can actually buy a raglan on Etsy that is screen-printed with fire-themed “Groupie” across the chest. But I digress…
In a recent conversation with a girlfriend of a firefighter, I was asked to explore something that I had thought a lot about: divorce rates among firefighters.
A long perpetuated “fact” is that divorce rates among firefighters are three times that of the general population. The first time I read this, it was a reference to an article on FireEngineering.com. Author Anne Gagliano leads off with a rather grim approach to the idea of being married to a firefighter, saying “A functioning, long-term marriage in this profession is uncommon; a happy, thriving, intimate one is rare.”
Traditionally, higher stress jobs mean high divorce rates. That’s just the way of it, but then I thought, when was the last time I met a stressed out firefighter? Most of the men whom I have come across are extremely laid back.
So I went digging. I’ve seen the reference to divorce among firefighters across multiple articles and forums, but few firefighters attribute their divorce to the job. It happens, but maybe a little less than some of us fear.
Then I came across one article on FireRescue1 This piece by Sara Jahnke makes sense out of the seemingly random statistic. It turns out that when you break down the national statistics for firefighters as an industry, you have to take into consideration gender and age. Of their two large studies, data was taken from 1,456 firefighters (a large portion was between the ages of 19 and 29, thus, age adjustments were made to match the statistics of the general population) from 31 departments across the country. Here is a general overview of their findings.
- Industry numbers for male firefighters: 77 percent were currently married, while 11.8 percent were currently divorced.
- National numbers: 57.5 percent married and 9.4 percent divorced.
- Industry numbers for female firefighters: 42.6 percent were currently married, while 32.1 percent were currently divorced.
- National numbers: 55.4 percent were currently married in the U.S. population, and 10.4 percent divorced.
Then there is the reality of multiple marriages.
- Industry numbers for male firefighters: 19.6 percent have had one divorce and, among married men in the fire service, 24.4 percent have had at least one divorce.
- Industry numbers for female firefighters:40 percent have had one divorce, and, among married women in the fire service, 27.3 percent percent have had at least one divorce.
- National numbers: 25 percent of U.S. adults have had at least one divorce. Among married people, 33 percent have had at least one divorce.
The article makes some really good points as to why these numbers turned out the way that they did. The first is the impact on the family when the wife or mother is in the stressful occupation. The second is that the number of female firefighters is so small across our country, thus leading to a potentially skewed sample.
I think it’s a good read worth checking out.
These Numbers are Not Forecasters
If you are the male partner of a female firefighter, you might look at these numbers and say that it’s not worth the effort to attempt a relationship because almost one-third of female firefighters end up divorced. If you are the female partner of a male firefighter, you might look at the numbers and be comforted because 77 of the men are married!
These numbers reflect a general sample that may not reflect your department at all.
Remember, however rare the chance at a lasting love may be, when it comes to true love, it very well might be the most beautiful thing you ever encounter. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page. It is not a one-person job and you cannot sit there and think you need to be everything to your firefighter while he is simply a firefighter. He is a boyfriend, a husband, a partner. And in cases of volunteer firefighters, he also has a different profession.
The Job Puts Pressure on Relationships
There are stressors that potentially occur in the daily shifts of your partner’s career that he or she may bring home whether they mean to or not. These can directly impact the daily lives of the partner and children at home. Some of them include:
- Exposure to danger and trauma: Physical injury (both cosmetic and critical)
- Health risks: Cancers, chronic illnesses, respiratory issues
- Mental and emotional stability: Each fire means the loss of property and/or life. This causes a shift in mental and emotional reactions and behavior.
One stressor that The Man and I have struggled with is the schedule. It’s great for the firefighter, they work more than 40 hours a week, but still seem to be home for days at a time. When The Man is home, his priorities are out of whack, and he gets into the mode of “I am going to do what I want to do.” This has meant choosing house basketball games, video games, his car, and hockey; while neglecting cleaning, shopping for the house, cooking, and me.
The schedule is worse for many wives and girlfriends whose partner have a second job. Many firefighters fill their days off with tending to another business.
The message that we all have to repeat to our partners is that we get that they don’t have all the time in the world, but it’s about prioritizing and making the best of what time you do have.
Dealing with the Stress
Some of the following can help your partner deal with the stress of the job:
- Exercise: This is key to his career and safety, but also a great way to spend time together as a couple.
- Regular Doctor Visits: Because there are so many chemicals in building materials, it is important to keep an eye on the physical health of your firefighter.
- Keep an Eye on Your Diet: Food intake greatly affects one’s mood and energy levels throughout the day. Keeping an eye on your diet at home for you and your firefighter might improve some of your interactions.
- Talk: Like I’ve said a thousand times, the key to any relationship is the maintenance of open and honest communication. Learn to communicate your stress in a productive manner, and encourage the same from your firefighter.
- Sleep!!!: A busy tour or not, your firefighter is tired. Sometimes maybe you are as well. Afterall, we clean, cook, do the shopping, and take care of any children or pets. I know I have a hard time sleeping during the night tours. But the truth is being tired leads to short fuses, big fights, miscommunication, and damage to a relationship.
- Encourage a Sense of Self: Your firefighter is not just a firefighter. You are not just a firefighter’s partner. It is crucial that each of you remembers what makes you you at the core of your existence. I love writing, painting, drawing, and being creative. For a while, especially during the academy it was really difficult for me to maintain that part of me as we made this transition. Because I lost myself in his career, resentment built.
Divorce happens in every career, every race, every class, every country. The fire industry is an overly sexualized career in modern society, and has a particular type of coverage in television and motion pictures, which can create anxiety and stress in the bond. Compounded with the stresses associated with each tour, relationships can be hard. Recognize your role in your firefighter’s life, and gently ask them to recognize their role outside of the firehouse as your partner.
It’s like Sonny said in A Bronx Tale:
“The only thing that matters is what’s good for you and how you feel about each other. Let me tell you something, when you’re alone late at night in bed just you and her under the covers, that’s all that matters. You gotta do what your heart tells you to do.”