Fighting Fire With Fire

Reposted with permission from Firefighters' Wives on April 11, 2011



We received an order for a Firefighters’ Wives long sleeve shirt and a Firefighters’ Daughters tshirt a couple of weeks ago from a lady named Heidi in Kalispell, Montana. When USPS didn’t deliver her order on time, she emailed us. She was initially wondering when she could expect her order, but after emailing back and forth, we discovered there was more to her story than just her wanting to get her shirts. She needed the shirts for something important, something that unfortunately many wives across the country are probably familiar with. Heidi needed the shirts for her and her daughter to wear because her husband’s department in Kalispell is dealing with cutbacks and she wanted to show her support for her husband and the department.

Heidi’s story touched our hearts and we thought there were other families out there that can probably relate to her story and give her some support. We decided to interview Heidi to give her the opportunity to tell her story. Below is her interview.

1. How many years have you been married? 12 years this summer
2. Do you have any kids? Yes, Peyton (boy) 9 and Ella 7
3. How many years has your husband been a Firefighter? 5 and a half years
4. What is his title in the department? Firefighter/Paramedic/Haz-Mat Tech
5. How many layoffs are you expecting? Up to 15, they just laid off 7
6. What are the reasons for the layoffs?
We’ve been dealing with contract negotiation for the last two years. Finally went to arbitration and the Firefighters won on all 14 points. Issues varied from clothing and the use of city property to the use of Kelly days and longevity pay. Once the arbitrator sided with us, the firefighters received notices of layoff within a few days. They played the public and basically have said that we were asking for and won raises in such poor economic times. They have no other choice. The city manager has thrown out a number that we are exceeding and we can’t match her numbers.

7. How is this news affecting you as a wife of a Firefighter?
I’m terrified. If my husband loses his job, we will need to move. I don’t mind moving but my kids are in 1st and 3rd grade. I made a pact with myself that I’d never uproot them. They would start and finish in the same school district with the same friends. I’m also terrified that if they layoff enough guys that my husband’s job safety becomes a factor. Not only will he be fired but the lack of people on scene makes for a dangerous situation.

8. How is this affecting your husband & the rest of the Firefighters?
For one, they are exhausted from the emotional roller coaster. One day it’s only 6 the next it’s 15. We finally get somewhere and they pull the rug out from under us. They’re frustrated and with good reason.

9. What is the support like in the city for the Firefighters?
In general we are supported by a large percentage of the citizens. No one wants to lose their emergency personnel. But they don’t understand what’s going on. The press doesn’t understand either which makes it that much more difficult.

10. What actions are you and your husband personally taking to combat this?
What happens to my husband at work comes home. I know when he’s had a save and when he’s lost a patient. I know when something goofy happened on shift and when he’s dishing or receiving crap. He takes his job seriously and he feels almost responsible.

I have the ability to work from home and have watched him day in and day out sitting in his chair working on the computer. On the phone, researching and completely under water with the amount of information he’s found. I decided that I could sit back and watch him try to save our “family” and his job or I could join the fight.

We’ve built the website. I made a no layoff logo for the firefighters and made no layoff t-shirts. We’ve walked the streets talking directly with our neighbors. I’ve picked up flyers, I’ve baked cookies. I’ve continued to update and add info as the firefighters collect it. I wear my union t-shirt, and my Firefighters’ Wives shirt with pride and the kids love to wear their firefighter shirts. We also spoke at the City Council meeting.

11. What steps if any, are you taking to prepare for possible layoffs in your home?
Fortunately this is not Brian’s first career. He worked in Corporate America and was traveling. When our son was born he changed his career to Home Building which was what my family did at the time. We were living in Iowa and he started volunteering in the fire service. It was something he loved as a child and it completely changed his life. He went back to school for his Paramedic and then decided one day that he wanted to try for a job in Montana. He’s from Helena and this would be his last chance as the cutoff at the time was 35, he was 34 and a half.

Though his heart is with the fire service and he takes great pride in helping the residents of Kalispell, he’s cleaned up his resume and has started applying for jobs back in the corporate world. Our priority is to stay here but if our City Manager breaks apart the fire department and privatizes the ambulance there won’t be a job nor any support from our employers to give us job security. No one should live that way.

12. When will layoff decisions be made?
They layoffs began this evening. We just lost 7 guys. Three of them were a part of a SAFER Grant which we have also lost because of the layoffs.

13. What other options do you feel the city of Kalispell has to cut budgets besides cutting the Fire Department staff?
They could show us the actual numbers in which they are using for one. We have asked for the numbers numerous times without making any headway. We don’t agree with what they are saying and they act as though they don’t understand the contract because they are overstating the impacts of the new contract. As for cutbacks, it is a tough economy and we are all struggling to make ends meet. The city has mismanaged the taxpayer’s money and we are now paying the consequences.

Unfortunately we feel the city is using short term solutions that will only add to the long term problem. Unemployment is increasing and insurance rates are likely to increase. Attracting new businesses and residents into the city just became more difficult. Existing businesses that are struggling may go out of business if they cannot afford the impacts of increased insurance rates. Businesses and residents will realize an increase in life loss and property loss due to the decrease in public safety responders. My husband’s job is less safe because anyone who knows anything about firefighting, it’s much safer with greater numbers.

One thing I did want to say. When you think of a work environment, most people have colleagues or coworkers and even peers. They don’t have a family; they don’t call each other brother or sister. The fire department does call their coworkers brother and they are proud to call each other by that name. The sense of family is strong and it envelopes the wives and children. It is my duty to fill in where needed just like I would do for my own sister or mom or best friend.

And besides, if I pitch in, I get to spend that much more time with my husband ;)

Please go to Heidi’s website and support the Kalispell Department. There is always strength in numbers and I’m sure there are others out there going through the same thing. Stick together and we shall over come.



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