Firefighters long hours taxing on family life

By Emilie Hornak: CNJ Correspondent

Family time is typical in most households — especially on Father’s Day.

Each night families in eastern New Mexico gather around the dinner table to chat, play games or even watch television.

However, for firefighters and their families spending time together can be more difficult.

After working 24-hour shifts at the fire house, firefighters return to their families for 48 hours before going back for another 24-hour shift.

Working such awkward hours takes understanding from the family, according to Shannon Lee, a Portales firefighter and father of two.

“It takes some understanding from the kids that you are going to be gone some of the time,” he said. “But there is understanding on both sides. The station understands that we have families, and our families understand that we have a job.”

Now that Allan Silvers, a driver operator for the Clovis Fire Department and a father of four, has a few years under his belt he admits that he’s gotten used to the separation. But there are still times when disappointment sets in.

“The only times it’s frustrating is when the kids have a special time or project in school, or scouts, or something like that that I couldn’t make it to because I couldn’t get time off,” Silvers said.

While Silvers’ department offers its firefighters time off to attend those events, Lee said the Portales department allows its crew members to attend the events and respond to any emergencies that may occur from there.

He said that he’s always sorry when he misses special events in his children’s lives because they’re something he’ll never get back.

“But I don’t miss out on everything,” Silvers said. “At the end of everything we always make sure there’s time for them to share with me.”

While Lee doesn’t enjoy missing the special moments of his children’s lives, he does take pleasure in seeing his children on a daily basis, even if it’s only for an hour.

“My family comes by to eat supper with me if I’m not out of town,” he said. “So, they get to come by and spend a descent hour with me at the station at least.”

It helps Lee when the families of his shift mates stop in.
“We get to visit with them like they’re our own kids. We’re pretty close to being one giant family,” he said.

Silvers said the fire department is a second family for him, but said most firefighters don’t talk to one another about how much they miss their families.

Keeping busy is the key for Silvers, he said.
“The first year, it was different spending the night way from my family. But honestly, it’s not in the forefront of my mind anymore,” he said.

If being away from the family gets to be too much for a firefighter, Silvers said they can always call the family up and invite them to the station for a visit.

“Get a few hugs from your family, and then you have to get back to work,” he said.

Silvers works a second job, allowing his wife to stay at home with the children. His second job means he works seven days a week from time to time.

“If that’s the way you run your household, you have the mom staying at home with her children, then as a firefighter a second job is something you have to do to make ends meet,” he said.

As for Lee’s children, he said they understand their dad can’t always be around.

“I really don’t think they ever had the chance to learn another way,” he said. “It’s all they’ve ever known.”