8 Things to learn from a Firefighter about Parenting

I’m a mom from Iowa, juggling responsibilities left and right — but not the ones you might expect. Between running my three wonderful kids around to sports events and family outings, I’m busy putting out fires — literally. I’ve been a professional firefighter for over two years, and if I’d known sooner how fighting fires would completely change my life, I would have started years ago.

Being a firefighter is tough, but so is being a mom. I’m always learning, always facing new challenges, always staying strong for the people around me. Fortunately, firefighting has taught me a whole lot about being a better parent, and you can bet these lessons will stick with me for a lifetime:

1. Develop A Thick Skin

Whether you’re battling blazes or parenting, you’ve got to have a thick skin and a tough stomach. Being a firefighter, I’ve seen and done so much that minor emergencies aren’t really emergencies anymore. As a parent, too, I’ve seen it all: cleaning throw-up, staying up in the middle of the night, helping the kids when they’re sick or hurt, you name it. Seen it, heard it, cleaned it, wiped it and changed it!

Before I started fighting fires, I would freak out so much more as a parent than I do now; one of my kid’s fingers would get pinched in a door and I would panic. Over time, you learn not sweat the small stuff — and that’s the key.

2. Toughen Up

Less obvious than thick skin, moms also have to develop muscles, too. Moms lift more than just their kids! As a parent, I’m constantly lifting laundry baskets full of clothes, carrying the kids and picking up their toys and bikes left in the yard. I’m lifting full grocery bags left and right. There’s no better prep for that than being a firefighter, where I need to be strong and keep up with the boys. Our gear alone is 70 pounds! Plus chainsaws, your hose and your irons. That’s 150 pounds overall. So, compared to that, lifting kids and all their essentials is no big deal. Whether I’m firefighting or parenting, my hands are always full.

3. If There’s Silence, Be Suspicious

As a firefighter, you learn that anytime it’s too quiet, something is going on. If we have a quiet day at the station, we think to ourselves, “Uh-oh. This means we’re going to be busy all night.” We’re always listening for the alarm to sound.

The same goes for when I’m at home with my kids. Trust me, I love a quiet home, but when the kids are inside and it’s too quiet - no singing, arguing or roughhousing - then something is definitely going on.

That’s why hearing is your most important sense — whether you’re parenting or fighting fires. After all, firefighters do most of their operations in the dark. When we’re dealing with a blaze or searching through smoke conditions, we’re lucky if we can see our hands in front of us, so we have to rely on our other senses. No matter what I’m doing, as a mom or a firefighter, I’m using my hearing to stay ahead of what I can’t see and trusting my instincts that if it’s silent, I should be suspicious.Something is up.

4. On That Note, Always Be Prepared For The Unexpected

An emergency happens in a second, so they teach you in firefighting training to always be prepared. That’s why we have a procedure in place for everything. We have a system to get our gear on and get out the door in 60 seconds or less: we keep our boots tucked in our bunker pants to throw everything on fast; we do a rig check before the start of each shift: the equipment, the pump system, lights and sirens, the engine — everything. We have to prepare for the worst-case scenario every time, so we can stay ahead of it.

That ethic of preparedness has helped me at home in more ways than one. I have necessities in my car in case of an emergency. I teach my kids what to do in case of a fire. For everyday stuff, I always pack extra clothes and make sure the kids have all the snacks they need. My husband and I prepare food for the week so we don’t end up taking the kids out for fast food when we’re running short on time. The more you prep in advance, the better you can deal with surprises down the road. The last thing any parent (or any firefighter) wants to be is caught off guard.

5. Containing The Flames Can Save The House

Where do I put out more fires, I often wonder, on the job or at home? I have three kids, and three’s a crowd; it seems that one of my children almost always ends up getting singled out. Then comes the arguing, which leads to fighting and tattletaling. As a parent, it’s my job to break it up and teach them that they all need to get along, play together and love each other, because we’re a family. In firefighting we call that principle brotherhood: “We work together and survive together.”

After my kids fight, my husband and I make them hug, say they’re sorry and tell each other that they’re best friends. Each one has to say a favorite thing about the other. It makes them laugh, which is sometimes all it takes to defuse the situation. We also make them hold hands and read a sign on our wall: “In this house, we laugh a lot, we make mistakes, we never give up, we always forgive, we keep our promises, we always have fun, but above all, we love.” Presto! Fire extinguished.

6. When The Going Gets Tough, Keep On Truckin’

On tough days as a firefighter, I could be responding to 19 calls in a 24-hour shift, and after each call, my team and I have to type up a report. You’re constantly trying to play catch-up. It can be overwhelming, but I tell myself that I have to just keep moving and get through it, taking it one task at a time.

Being a mom isn’t any different. Some days are easy and others can be high-stress. I work 24-hour shifts at the station and then take 48 hours off. But even on my off days, I’m still a parent — I don’t just go home and get to sleep like a baby! Nine times out of 10, I walk in the front door and the house looks like a tornado blew through it. So now I’m cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, running errands, paying bills and picking up after the kids, trying to make it through the day. On those tough mom days, I tell myself that when the going gets tough, keep on truckin’! Because at the end of the day, when you hug them, kiss them and tuck them into bed and they fall asleep, you’re reminded just how worth it it is.

7. We Serve So Others May Live

That’s a firefighting motto, and we live it to the core. Firefighting is a service job, and we risk our lives to save others. When we’re trying to save a home, we run into the building as people are running out. We put ourselves in dangerous situations all the time.

Putting my kids’ needs before my own is a lot like how our engine company approaches firefighting. Parenting is a service job; we’re constantly serving our kids, providing all the opportunities they deserve so they can have a good life. When you become a parent, your kids always come first, and you do whatever is necessary to keep them safe, happy and healthy.

8. You’re Always In Training

I’m learning every day as a firefighter; we’re constantly training, just to be prepared for whatever comes. I’m always growing and facing new challenges and tests.

I like to think that I’m always in training as a parent, too. Every new day offers chances to teach or train the kids, of course, but I also learn new things from my kids all the time. In fact, I think I learn more from them than I teach them. I’m never going to know everything there is to know about parenting or have all the right answers. Instead I strive to be a better parent than I was yesterday. I love constantly learning, training and growing as a firefighter and as a parent, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

By Jessie Adams Haug

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