By Lisa Morgan
There are a special few who are the very essence of the word HERO. These are the people who run toward the danger that put us, our city, our county, state or country at risk. We often think gratefully of our soldiers, our police force and, of course, our fire fighters in such a light. But there is another group of lionhearted individuals, quite unsung, who show this same kind of character and courage daily. These are the ones without whom, many of our first responders would have no safe place to find comfort, love, support and purpose to push on in these extremely difficult and underpaid professions. These heroes are the first responder wives.
Tragedy brought a group of very special women together just one year ago, July 5, 2013. On the heels of losing fellow firefighters, originally from Riverside County, the “Hot Shots” in the Colorado fires, CDF Local 2881 grief was carved even deeper. In the midst of planning the memorial for their brothers in Colorado, CAL FIRE Engineer/Paramedic, Christopher Douglas, was fatally struck by a car while working along eastbound Interstate 10 in Thousand Palms. Douglas, age 41, was an eight-year veteran of CAL FIRE who had previously served in the United States Air Force. He was survived by his wife, Amy Douglas, their two-year-old son and their unborn child. Amy’s fellow fire-wives rushed to her support.
“When tragedy struck our fire community in July 2013, many of the fire wives already a part of the Facebook group, came together and rushed to aid the fallen firefighter’s family,” shared Fire Wife, Krystal Lathrop. “This is how the idea of our organization happened. The ladies coordinated meals, purchased a variety of household goods, personal items, as well as organized several fundraising events. California Fire Wives (CFW for short) obtained many new members during this tragic time and what started out as 75 members have grown to over 200. After witnessing such an expression of unconditional love, support and generosity, I along with a few other fire wives, decided to begin the process of obtaining non-profit status for The California Fire Wives Organization. A lot of us came out of pocket to help, and we enjoyed doing it. But we thought, if we could form an organization, we could get outside donations and be ready in case, God forbid, something else happened.”
Now, one year later, these fine ladies are still steadfastly at it, building the organization that meets needs only fellow fire wives can foresee and meet. Their mission statement: “California Fire Wives, along with the assistance of our communities, will serve with great integrity as an additional resource to promptly assist current, retired and Line of Duty Death ﬁre personnel and their families in the event of a major illness, injury or death. We will strive to ensure the quality of life by providing immediate emotional, physical and monetary support, until our assistance is no longer deemed necessary.”
“Luckily, over the last year we have only had to assist two families,” Lathrop said with a sense of relief. “With our organization, the less incidents we have to help the better, you know? The members of CFW know there is a lot of work ahead, but we also know that the success of The California Fire Wives Organization is undeniable. A few months ago, a firefighter lost his father who had also worked for the department his entire career. Between CFW and the fire community, we were able to emotionally support his family by being there every day for a month straight. Meals and anything else they needed were provided to them as well. The firefighter and his family we assisted have now become our best friends.”
“Right now, our greatest need is getting our Tax ID and becoming official,” shared Lathrop. “It is a lot of paperwork and quite a bit of money to file. If anyone knows of someone or you can provide pro-bono services to help me file faster, I and the other wives would be most grateful and make sure to advertise anything you wanted on our website to help you back! Whether it be services from a financial person who handles Non-Profits or a legal office, we will take any assistance we can get! If you or someone else you know can help please call me at (760) 574-6468 or email me a Spdbump18@yahoo.com.”
I asked Krystal Lathrop what special challenges exist for fire families on a daily basis even without tragedy knocking on the door. “Well, our husbands don’t work a 9-5 and come home at night or have weekends off. Our weekends happen whenever he is able to come home. When you’re married to a firefighter you become a single married parent a lot of the time, especially during fire season. You have to be strong, and be able to withstand long periods of time away from your spouse. You have to play both mom and dad, be a plumber, handy man/woman, taxi for the kids, and be at every game because the other one can’t be there. Holidays are celebrated at a fire station or scheduled for a later date. Birthdays and anniversary are missed along with family functions. Any type of family time or vacation has to be planned out a year in advance, no exceptions. Even when you want to plan something, it doesn’t always happen. You attend parties alone and people want to know where your ghost husband is. Then you have to continuously explain to them that he is saving the world! At the end of the day we wouldn’t change our lives for that 9-5, weekends off, husband home every night kind of life. We are proud of what our husbands do. They run into burning buildings when others are running out. They are there when children have drowned, and they bring them back from the grips of death. They are there during traffic collisions, pulling a lifeless body out, knowing that it was the accident that took that life, and having to realize they can’t save everyone. They are there to help the elderly when all they need is to be put back into bed, as well as working them up on a full arrests. When they come home, we have to be a support system. We are their light at the end of a shift, and we are their phone call when they saved a life or brought one into the world. Their job isn’t easy. They are doing what they love – what runs through their veins. They are our heroes, and we wouldn’t change one thing! When you marry a firefighter, you marry the whole department and his career.
This Saturday, July 19th, starting at 9pm, local bands Pictures From Eden, Caxton and Deadend Paradox will be performing at Schmidy’s Tavern to help this worthy organization find its wings by raising awareness as well as donating proceeds to CFW. Donations can also be made through Paypal using the email Californiafirewives@yahoo.com. You can follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CaliforniaFireWives to find other fun events coming up or visit their website at www.californiafirewives.com. “We are in the process of organizing annual fundraisers involving Santa during Christmas time, ‘Flamingo Flocking’ during the spring (like toilet papering, but with flamingos – it’s WAY more amazing then it sounds), among some other various fundraisers involving dining, wineries and things of that nature,” stated Lathrop. “We want people to have fun and get some enjoyment out of doing something for a good cause!”
10 Commandments of a Fire Wife
1. Thou shalt not marry a firefighter unless you are willing to follow the commandments and be FIRE WIFE STRONG. Thou shalt have the understanding that it’s your choice to marry him. Being a firefighter is his birthright.
2. Thou shalt carry forth with birthday parties, holidays, school plays, sporting events and dance recitals without your firefighter.
3. Thou shalt be prepared for unexpected visits to the vet, Dr. or urgent care, etc. while your fireman is on duty.
4. Thou shalt expect that transmissions, A/C units, washing machines and dish washers will break and you will be required to fix it in the middle of the pay period and before OT is posted.
5. Thou shalt know that your fireman loves you but may not show it, especially, when you can’t talk to him for more than five minutes in ten days.
6. Thou shalt be prepared for canceling plans due to staffing patterns or sudden changes in the academy schedule.
7. Thou shalt be prepared to make household decisions, but also be prepared to be told “That’s not what I would have done.”
8. Thou shalt keep perspective. Remember, that while you are cleaning up dog poop, he’s cleaning up the blood of a stranger. While your crying baby is driving you crazy, he’s trying to get a baby to breathe. While you are cutting the grass, he’s cutting someone out of a wrecked car. While you are running errands, he’s running from a wall of flames. While you are carrying heavy boxes into your child’s new dorm, he’s carrying a heavy pack on his back though the smoky woods.
9. Thou shalt develop deep friendships among your fire wife sisters, so that you may have a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on and a heart to understand.
10. Thou shalt never forget how much you love your firefighter for he could so easily be taken from you.
– Monica O’Neal
The Only Commandment of a Firefighter.
**Thou shalt marry a woman who is Fire Wife Strong**
Benefit: Schmidy’s Haute Lei, Saturday, July 19th 9PM-1AM $5 @ Door at Schmidy’s Tavern, Highway 111 & Fred Waring, Palm Desert
Event link: www.facebook.com/events/1513578805529285