How we got here: the story of a firefighter’s wife

When I met Jonny at the ripe age of 20, his career goal was to become a fireman.  Of course I thought this was the hottest thing ever. I mean, what girl doesn’t love the thought of a handsome man in uniform? I immediately started dreaming about what my life would look like being married to a fireman. Yes, I absolutely dreamed of what the fire helmet sticker would look on the back of my car. 

I don’t talk about this part of my life much, which is odd because being married to a firefighter has shifted everything about how we live and operate. His job is important not just because of the impact he makes on other people, but because of how we got here. Here is our fire life story. 

Jonny and I got married at 23 (holy babies, I know) and at the time I was working for a non profit and he was working for a grading company while continuing to pursue his dream of becoming a fireman. Here in California, getting hired as a fireman is extremely competitive (maybe it has something to do with the crazy amount of fires we have every year?) so we knew there was a good possibility it would take Jonny years to get hired. So after we got married, he quit his (good-paying) job to work minimum wage as an EMT.

This is really where his dream became our dream. For him to work this job, I needed to do more than my nonprofit day job. I began to  intentionally build my weekend Hair & Makeup business. First my goal was to pay off student loans, and then quickly it became for much more than that. 

We soon found out we were pregnant with our first baby, Jaxlee. Due to unforeseen complications, Jax was in the NICU for 3 weeks. Jonny was still working as an EMT and interviewing for firefighter jobs all the time. In fact, the day Jaxlee went in for an MRI on her brain, Jonny had an interview for a fire job at the same time. He wasn’t sure if he should go because he wanted to be with me and Jaxlee in the hospital, but I assured him he should go to pursue the job opportunity. 

Once Jax was able to come home from the NICU, I realized I wanted to be with her throughout the week to care for her and take her to all of her appointments. So I quit my full time job and started really hustling/focusing on my hair and makeup business.

Meanwhile, Jonny was still pursuing his dream of becoming a firefighter. With each application and each interview ending in closed doors, he started to consider new opportunities that would make him more valuable to a fire department. 

He decided paramedic school would be the next best option. So, again, we shifted as a family. Remember, his dream was our dream, and we both sacrificed to make it possible. 

We got a roommate to help cover our rent and Jonny lived in the High Desert during the week while he went to paramedic school and came home on the weekends. When he was home on the weekend, he would work a shift on the ambulance. I cared for Jax solo during the week and then hustled the weekend working weddings to cover the bills for our family, all while cheering on my husband who was working his butt off at paramedic school. As I am typing this out, I am asking myself, “how did we even do that?” 

There was one point I remember asking Jonny what his “plan B” career was. He said there is no plan B.

And after 9 years and 38 interviews, Jonny’s Plan A came to fruition. 

Towards the end of his paramedic school, Jonny got a letter in the mail offering him a job with Los Angeles County Fire Department. I will never forget the call I received from Jonny. In all the years that we had been together, I had never seen or heard him cry (not even our wedding or the birth of our first child lol). But on the phone that day when he delivered the news that he was offered the job with LA County, I could hear the tears in his voice as he filled me in. We both began to cry because this was the culmination of the last 9 years of sacrifice and hardship. We were relieved, grateful, and so proud.

As soon as Jonny graduated from paramedic school he went right into another Fire Academy with LA County. Every Sunday I would cook all day, getting his meals ready for the week, and then Jax and would send him off that night. He would spend the week Monday-Saturday in the Tower (that’s what they call their Fire Academy) and he would come home on Saturday night for some snuggles and a night in his own bed, just to head back Sunday night for the week. This lasted for 20 weeks. At the end of his Academy, after passing all the assessments and requirements, we got to attend his graduation ceremony.

I pinned his uniform at the graduation ceremony, which felt like a true celebration of all we had accomplished and been through together, this was (almost) the final step.

Jonny went into his first year as a fireman on probation, as every firefighter does. You are the first one to show up for your shift and the last one to leave. You don’t sit down other than to tie your shoes and you’re constantly cleaning or working around the firehouse if you are not on a call. Needless to say, I can remember Jonny coming home pretty worn out. It was physically and mentallly exhausting-— much of what his career still looks like. 

If I have learned anything about being a firewife, is that it’s about sacrifice. Jonny and I have both made—and continue to make— sacrifices for his dream as a fireman. He isn’t always at every holiday and has missed (and will miss) special days and dates with our family. But to say we are grateful for his career is an understatement. He gets to make a living and provide for our family doing what he absolutely loves. The growth and development I have seen in him as a person, husband, and father is remarkable. 

As a fire wife I have learned once he is off the clock, he needs a safe and relaxing place to come home to. A reprieve from the stress and demands of his job. Oftentimes that includes a solid nap before he can jump back into family/home life. I have learned how to sleep by myself and take care of things around the house when he is at work. I’ve learned how to fire up the BBQ and grill some steaks without him. I’ve learned how to show up to events and family functions as a solo parent or without my spouse and still have a great time!

There are hard aspects to being a firewife; I don’t want to downplay that by any means. If you are a spouse to a first responder, you know how it is. 

I truly believe that our deep gratitude for Jonny’s career is rooted in how hard we both worked to get to this point. His career was not something that I “married into”. We decided this was something we wanted together, and we both put in the work to make it happen. I also think this is why I am so dang proud to be a firewife. It goes far beyond being married to someone who puts others before himself every single day. It goes back to those Saturdays working 4 weddings, and those Sundays making meals. We were united then, and we’re united now that it’s a story I get to tell. 

I am not a bumper sticker type of person, but you better believe I drive around with my firefighter sticker loud and proud on the back of my 4Runner. 

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  1. Dennis Byrd says:

    God has blessed your family Emily and it’s beautiful to see. As you and Jonny Jaxlee, Braelynn and Tripp continue your beautiful journey through life, I wish you all the best of luck and blessings in the world. Stay true and know that God has a plan and I can’t wait till we can see you this summer. Love uncle Dennis

  2. Heather W says:

    Love this beautiful story! Cheers to both of you guys for all the hard work you put into everything you do. SO happy and proud of you!!!!

  3. […] we’re back to real life, where Jonny leaves for days at a time, and it’s up to me to organize our time, schedule the help, and figure out how to run on my […]

  4. […] –> Want to learn more about Jonny’s journey to become a firefighter? Read our story here. […]

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