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Building Construction for the Fire Service Family

“Risk a lot to save a lot”

Upon rounding the corner in my neighborhood, I couldn’t help but hear it. The chant of “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!!!!” echoed through the double pane windows of our first floor, and even though I had only stepped out to walk the dog, you would have thought I was scoring the game winning touchdown (or at a minimum bringing home some pizza).  I could hear my two little girls from a complete house over screaming for me, and an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment took hold, knowing that despite all the nights away from them and my wife at the firehouse—I am loved.  I stood in the yard a little longer than normal, admiring not only all the work we had done turning our new house into a home, but also staring back at the cheesy grins waiting for me in the playroom.  

As they stared back at me, I realized yet again, that I had an opportunity to do more to be a better father and husband.  We preach a lot in the fire service about the need to do a full size up of structures, commonly called a 360 degree assessment, to quickly learn as much as we can about what is happening inside (or outside).  We then use this information to make a decision in our risk profile, to either go, or not go into the structure.  Paramount in aiding this decision, is our knowledge of the building’s construction, floor layout, and contents.  As I stood there in the yard, I began to size up my own home for perhaps the first time in a way that mattered.  I took notice of more than the two stories with vinyl siding and asphalt shingle roof, the fence limiting access to the rear yard, and all the boxes I knew still remained unpacked in the attic.

I began to realize in this size-up, that more than just wood and vinyl, my home is constructed from the memories and moments I’ve been able to make with my family.   My size up is telling me there’s people in there worth risking everything to save.

Arts and crafts time, watching Disney’s Frozen 30 times, reading books, and bedtime routines, all take place within those four walls.  A case of the giggles, daddy pretending to be a dinosaur, and stalling putting the kids to bed so we can watch just “five more minutes” of TV, all happen here.  I know the layout as I’ve carried my girls to their bedrooms for bed many times.  And even though we live in a cookie cutter neighborhood, you wouldn’t believe the view it offers.  Because each day and night I’m fortunate to be home, I get to see my wife glow as a mother with our children (Can I brag one more time that she’s a fantastic mother?!).   But I quickly remembered the hazards of the building, or the not so great moments— the fights with my wife that had occurred, and how I left to go to work without resolving them; the apologies left battered around in my head but not said, especially knowing when I was wrong; and the lost minutes of our lives spent mad over things which never really mattered in the first place.  I use the excuse of work too often to avoid having to deal with whatever was frustrating us at the time.  

Money, not spending enough time with the family, doing more around the home or to help with the kids, or even working too much and its related stress are the usual kindling that start our fights. I don’t image my wife and I are much different than any other couple in America who have children and a mortgage.  Our situation, as you already know and probably share in,  is just that much more difficult because of the job I love and have been called to do.

When we talk about evaluating risk profiles, we teach to even the newest of our fire service members, risk a lot to save a lot.  Curt Isakson, of is famous for preaching “It’s worth the risk”, when he speaks to the need for aggressive fire attack to save people, and I agree.  When it comes to our families and homes, it’s never the right thing to set up in the yard, and act defensively.  We must always choose to be aggressive, and push into our homes to resolve fights, hard feelings, and missed time with our family.   We may interpret the situation from the yard as hopeless, with everything lost inside, but that is the very moment when our family needs a hero the most.  

Don’t ever allow a pity party outside your home, to keep you from having the conversations and spending the quality time that are necessary to save your family.  I pray that everyone reading this, if it speaks to you, can find the patience, courage, and resolve to engage in the strategy and tactics to keep their families intact.

Benjamin Martin is a lieutenant with the Henrico County Division of Fire (Va) and an 12-year veteran of emergency services.  He is a graduate of and former Deputy Curriculum Chief with the Virginia Fire Officers Academy.  He is passionate about not only empowering aspiring leaders, but also supporting and promoting resiliency in existing leadership.  He writes and speaks under the banner, Conscious and Intentional: The opportunity of leadership.  He has two bachelor's degrees, Allied-Health (Pre-Med) and Fire Science, and is currently working on a Master's in Public Administration

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