Saturday, June 10, 2023

Introducing Firefighter Kearney

Back in the spring of 2020, as Matt and I weighed the pros and cons of moving to Seattle, the topic of careers came up. I was ready to leave education. He was ready to find a career he really loved.

He'd been in touch with a lot of people from the paddling community and some of them are firefighters. Matt was interested. The moment he mentioned it, I had a gut reaction, a deep and certain feeling: this is right. This is right for Matt. It's right for us.

Nearly three years later, that dream is a reality.

The road here has been long and winding. We've faced setbacks. We've had to dig deep and find a kind of dedication and faith we haven't really needed before. But to make an incredibly long story short, the weekend before Thanksgiving 2022, Matt got confirmation that he had an official offer from the Seattle Fire Department. He was, at the time, doing volunteer firefighting and in school for his EMT certification. 

Matt's graduation from academy for volunteer firefighting at Mountain View.

We'd just heard that our application for Zoe had been accepted, too. Basically, things were exciting in that moment but we should've anticipated the looming chaos.

On January 30, 2023, I joined Matt for a full-day of orientation. The first 90 minutes drilled into our heads how hard fire academy would be. Physically hard, mentally taxing, and completely life-consuming. They warned us, the caretakers, that we'd have to forgive our recruits for being absent, exhausted, and totally focused for the next 15.5 weeks, because they would not be successful otherwise. They told the recruits to be ready to treat their caretakers to a steak dinner after graduation, because we'd have earned it.

February 1, Matt officially started drill school for the Seattle Fire Department.

The new schedule was punishing for us both. Matt was up before 5am every day and home after 6pm. 

Our days looked like this: Matt left for work and I'd take Zoe out to potty, then put her in the bed with me. During the day I juggled work, puppy training (if you've had a young puppy, you know this deserves its own callout), and household management stuff (laundry, grocery inventory and ordering, cleaning, etc, all of which there was more of than usual because...well, drill school and new puppy). 

We hired a puppy sitter for the days I was in office, since I didn't want Zoe to be crated for more than four hours at a time. She'd come walk and play with Zoe for an hour midday, and she was a life-saver for my peace of mind.

I'd begin dinner around 6pm, often before Matt was even home. He'd get home and shower, then soak in an Epsom salt bath. If he got home really late, he'd eat in the tub. Or I'd quiz him while he soaked. 

Matt prepared his uniform for the next day and went to bed by 8:30. Meanwhile, I'd clean up from dinner, make his overnight oats and protein shakes for breakfast and lunch, finish laundry if necessary, and hang out very quietly on my own until bedtime.

Because I had to have dinner started on time and had to watch the dog in the mornings, running was off the schedule, and I honestly had no bandwidth to workout at home, either. I barely socialized (even less than usual) because my entire focus was making sure Matt's evenings went smoothly.

On the weekends, Matt had Saturday school, hours and hours of studying, and weekly massages.

I had to test out his bunker gear. No surprise, it's heavy.

Basically, all our time was accounted for. The burden of it was tiresome. And that's not even counting the existential stress.

I said it in my Instagram post and I'll say it here: I can't really describe how hard those first weeks were as we adjusted to the new schedule, and I really believe the only other people who can truly get it are the others who went through it.

Basically I barely saw Matt during the week. We barely had time to have a conversation most nights. It was an incredibly lonesome experience. We've been married a long time, and it's always been just the two of us. I missed him terribly.

On top of all that, I worried for weeks that Matt would get injured and be released. When we got covid, we really thought that might be the end. Luckily, his TO's went to bat for him and the other recruits and they were able to return to academy, but Matt had to power through his lingering illness because any sign of weakness could get him released.

There were many nights I cried doing dishes, lonely and anxious and too scared to be hopeful.

I can't quantify how many hours I spent venting to Elizabeth over those four months. I can't explain how grateful I am to have a job that's flexible and a team that's understanding as we went through this life-changing experience.

And in the end, we made it through.

Matt graduated drill school on May 19 with 37 other recruits. There had been 53 at the start, taken from an interviewing list of thousands. 

During the ceremony, he caught my eye as the chief thanked the caretakers for getting their recruits through drill school, and I found myself choking up.

After 15.5 grueling weeks of drill school, Matt is now Probationary Firefighter Kearney. He's currently on operations, meaning he's working regular shifts and is in the field, while continuing to study and practice drills. He is, for all intents and purposes, a firefighter.

I earned this.

His graduation from operations will be in February 2024, and at that point he will be off probation.

This has been a long road full of uncertainty and fear. It tested us in ways we hadn't experienced in our 13 years of marriage, but we've come through it stronger than ever. I am so incredibly proud of him.

Nearly three years since he took his first qualification test, Matt is doing what he set out to do. The SFD is a prestigious department with high standards within the department and high expectations from the city, and I know he won't let them down.


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