B. Kathy Oldaker
Greetings to all my adopted firefighter family. I want to share my story of being a firefighter’s daughter. The pains, lives, thrills and the tragedies of growing up. There were many good times, as well as bad. I was quite young when dad started at the department; I think I was about five years old. My first good memory of his fighting a fire was when I was in kindergarten. There was an insurance company behind the school that caught fire. Because of the excitement of the ordeal, all the classes in the building moved to that side of the school.
I saw my dad in full uniform, handling the hoses and getting directions from the chief, where he was to go next. As he turned he caught a glimpse of me in the window. Our eyes met and I started jumping up and down yelling, “That’s my daddy! That’s my daddy!” Of course, he smiled back. This was the happiest day I could remember watching him. The fire was out and they started loading up the gear. Little did I know, the chief and the crew snuck into the building and stood outside of the door.
The teacher saw what was happening, and opened the door. Lo and behold, there stood my class in complete awe of seeing the working firefighters. I ran up to my dad and hugged him. He smelled like smoke and I didn’t care! He picked me up and introduced me to the crew. It was then that I became fascinated with dad’s line of work. When mom, my sister and I went to the station to have a little family time, I would explore the station. And when a call came in, the guys jumped into their gear. Dad would kiss mom and told her he would call her when he got back. With the truck leaving the station, mom would start crying.
This would happen time and time again, and we would leave the station in tears. Mom tried not to cry in front of us, she just HAD to stay strong for all of us. Knowing the danger involved with fighting fires we would always pray for the safety of the crew when they had a run. Many a night, when dad was on shift, he would call mom before she went to bed. More than once dad got a call and had to hang up. Since my bedroom was down the hall from theirs, I would hear mom crying and praying, “God bring them all back safely.” I didn’t want to lose my daddy, either.
As time went on, we began seeing a change in dad’s behavior. He seemed like he was always angry. And the outbursts. Oh my God, it was a scene I’d soon want to forget, but I remembered! I still do. I think at times I may minimize some of the things I saw. I remember one day dad had mom backed into a solid oak door screaming obscenities at her. She must have seen his hand move, and she ducked as his fist hit the door, shattering it into several pieces. They argued a lot. I remember one time, dad came home early, and heard mom playing what he called “hillbilly” music. He would come into the room and pick up the records, (they were vinyl back then) and break them. Some he threw, imbedding them into the walls.
My sister and I would stand by mom, trying to protect her from the monster that stood over her. This went on for a few more short years. Then they built their house out into the countryside. Things seemed to calm down, as dad would find things to do to de-stress. About five years later, dad was at a fire, and began having chest pains. He told his captain. Dad came home and told mom about it, then he collapsed on the floor curled into the fetal position. (Which was believed to be a sign that death was imminent.) As mom was leaning over him, I called the squad. Dad started vomiting. Mom was crying uncontrollably. Just then my sister came in and went hysterical. In the calmness I had at that moment, I looked at her as she was screaming, the only thing I could think to do was a light slap to the face.
That went well I think, because she quit screaming. I hugged her and calmed her down as I told her, “Now sis, we have to be calm for mom and dad’s sake. He is going to be ok.” And he was. Spending a few days at the hospital, mom would spend hours before or after work, at the hospital. He came home a humbled man. The doctors told him he could not go back to work fighting fires. He underwent hours, days and weeks, of intensive psychiatric testing. After that was done, they reflected the same thing dad told them from the beginning. HE WAS SCARED OF FIRE! I don’t think Post-traumatic Stress had a name yet in the public sense of the word.
The term, “Post-traumatic stress” was also called “battle fatigue” or “shell shock”. It was used in the military as a catchall phrase for the wounded soldiers, or for those who were able to come home at all, the depression from war set in. It is far more widespread than originally thought. It has reached into the emergency responders’ arena. See the brochure, First Step Hope, on the Grieving Behind the Badge blog.
As time went on my sister had just turned 16 and asked to take dad’s truck to go swimming. He relented. We had fun. But, on the way home, turning into the last leg home a bit too fast, she lost control, slid into a tree on the passenger side. I was thrown out on my backside, and the truck came to rest nose down, facing a twenty foot+ deep ravine. I asked her to walk to the house to get mom and dad. I couldn’t walk because of all the briars I had stuck in me. When our parents got there, they assessed what happened. Mom fell to her knees crying. We could have been killed! I’m telling you this to let you know that right after that we started going to church. Mom and dad got salvation and our home took on a new meaning. Dad was no longer the “monster” he once was. Our home was happy for the first time.
Right after that mom and dad opened a home business. It flourished for some time. Friends of dad would come in and help out from time to time. It was so busy we had to eat in shifts. That’s when we discovered the microwave oven!!! Soon, mom became sick. She went to the doctor, had surgery and it was bad news. Mom was in stage three ovarian cancer. Of course we were devastated. Mom had some really good days where she could hang around with the customers, other days she spent on the couch and our friends and family would come in to see her. Dad did everything to make her comfortable.
He would lay beside the couch, crying. He was losing mom. Dad didn’t quite have the bouncy step he once had. When no one was around dad would hold her and tell her he was so sorry for all the bad things he did to her. She would respond by kissing his hand. Not only did dad lose his career, he was losing the best thing that ever happened to him. In March 1988, mom went home with her Savior, leaving a lost and broken man. It was hard for a while for him to go to church. But he would go. Over the years he became more and more depressed and had been talking to friends about how much he missed his wife, my mom. He gave up nine days after his birthday in 2010 and went on to see mom again.
He was honored with a fire fighter’s funeral. Towards the end, the Honor Guard stood up, and one by one stood at my dad’s casket and saluted a fallen hero. The hardest part for me was when the “Final Call” bell was rung. Because the weather was bitter cold they were not able to do the “Last Ride” through town on the back of the last rig he drove. A wonderful man he was. Even up to the time he died, he would host coffee time with his friends. Have prayer time and give to those who had a need or two. To me, dad was my friend, banker, confidant, and hero. I will never forget my dad, Gerald L. Friend. Rest in peace, dad!
My dad was born and raised in Mansfield, Ohio. He was born December 30, 1937. He married mom, Diane C. Poulton, June 30th, 1957. My sister, Tally, was born the following January. I was born 3 years later. Dad began working at the fire department in the mid 1960′s. In 1974, he had a work- related heart attack. He survived that and he and mom opened their business, Clear-Fork Communications, a C.B. shop that flourished till my mom was diagnosed with cancer. They retired the business so he and I could take care of mom. After years of missing mom, he passed away, January 8, 2010.
I was born and raised in Mansfield, Ohio. Mom and dad were decent enough, even though they fought a lot. Whenever dad went to a fire, he would tell us the details. On his day off he would take me and show me what happened. After the 9/11 attacks I became more obsessed with fire fighters. I collected everything I could. I prayed every time I heard the sirens. I still do. Even though he was retired he and I would talk about his job. Oh how I miss him! I can still hear the final bell ringing when it’s really quiet.