Over the years, I've received a few calls from wives who believed their fire-chief husbands were treated unfairly and that FIRE CHIEF should investigate the story. These women were frustrated, having to watch their husbands suffer the pain and anguish that sometimes comes with the job.
One of those callers was the wife of a Charleston (S.C.) firefighter who died in the 2007 Super Store Sofa fire. She felt a need to report what other firefighters were telling her about what happened after the fire and about how the families were being treated during the investigations and political whirlwind. She also offered sources to verify her story.
I also received a call from fire chief's wife, after her husband had been fired by the city council and replaced with an interim chief. She passionately believed that as a national publication, FIRE CHIEF should write about the "corruption and illicit activities" that were going on in her community. I felt for the woman.
The suffering of families came to mind this week when I read about Joseph Cassano, a 23-year-old EMT and son of FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano. The younger Cassano who was accused of making racist and derogatory remarks via Twitter.
Most of us are fortunate to find support in our families. But firefighters families carry additional weights, supporting the men and women who respond to gruesome events and are exposed to hazards and toxins. Where do these incident-weary responders retreat after their duty is done? Home. The emotional pressures on a firefighters' family could easily explain why firefighters have a divorce rate that three times higher than that of the general population.
Several years ago Portia Rawles, Ph.D., advised fire chiefs to be aware of family relationships of their firefighters. "Firefighters are in the precarious position of having an occupation that they love but that also creates tremendous stress and strain for themselves, their spouses and their families. Many social scientists believe this is a result of the occupational stressors they encounter," she wrote.
But while much has been written about firefighters and their spouses, not much has been written about firefighters and their children. Sons and daughters often become firefighters because they are following in a parent's footsteps. As the daughter of a firefighter and the sister to two firefighters, I know the stories and emotions that filled our family life.
Commissioner Cassano handled the situation with his son as best he could, issuing a strong-but-loving statement that expressed disappointment in his son's behavior. Joseph Cassano subsequently quit his job as EMT and gave up his dream of becoming an FDNY firefighter. Firefighting demands maturity and professionalism, and its better to discover the lack of it before the fire academy.
Firefighters' families are an integral part of a firefighter and it's a delicate balance because they live in a heavy emotional environment. But like all families, when you suffer, they suffer, and vice versa.