It started in July 2012, as so many things do these days, as a simple blog post on the Internet. Lori Mercer, the wife of a firefighter, was celebrating the 10th anniversary of her wedding. As she reflected back on her and her husband Dan’s journey, she realized just how tough it could be sometimes to be the wife of a firefighter.
There were holidays spent alone, anniversaries that came and went without more than a two minute call before the tones dropped, crying babies who didn’t understand why daddy wasn’t coming home for their birthday. Sometimes she didn’t understand why it felt like the department came first, why he couldn’t wait to go back. As she thought about their story, she wrote it down, the pain and heartache, struggles and strife, and the perks too; the fire station visits, the numerous days off in a row, and heck, who doesn’t like being married to a hero. With Dan’s blessing she shared her post, and was floored with the response. Comments and emails poured in, women all over the country could relate. Women who couldn’t be more different; women who were working professionals, stay at home moms, mothers of many or wives with no children, as different as they all were, they were all living the crazy life of a firefighter’s wife. The responses were filled with emotion from women who were struggling; they needed to know they were not alone. And thus, Firefighter Wife was born.
Firefighter Wife began as an online community where the spouses of first responders could find fellowship and understanding. As it grew, the Mercer’s discovered that all the marriage and family resources that existed for other high stress dangerous jobs (like the military) were sorely lacking for first responders. Men who are brave enough to run into a burning building are bound to have a lot of excess testosterone with nowhere to place it. These same “hot firefighters” are surrounded by beautiful nurses and other professionals, they’re surrounded by grateful members of the community; people who can’t wait to tell them how wonderful they are. How then, is a marriage and family, complete with all the messiness that comes along with them, supposed to survive when the outside world seems so much more glamorous?
The organization began to offer programs such as “Marriage on Fire” and “Rescue my Marriage,” in addition to other resources like “Financial Planning,” realizing that there are numerous outside influences and problems that effect the marriages of first responders. The community grew through the blog and social media, and eventually became a 501(c)3 corporation in Ohio. As the scope of the organization grew to encompass more than just a community for wives, Firefighter Wife became “24-7 Commitment,” and received status as a federal nonprofit. This change enables the organization to expand their mission to honor, encourage and support the marriages and families of first responders.
Firefighter Wife initially had about 1,000 followers in their little online community. In stark contrast, 24-7 Commitment now has over 100,000 followers on social media and email lists. Within 24-7 Commitment there are two main peer support communities: the Fire Wife Sisterhood and the Honor Guard. These communities serve to bring support, encouragement and accountability to the spouses of first responders and the first responders themselves. Honor Guard, the newer of the two communities, offers a private place for firefighters to fellowship with one another about the struggles and problems that face them in both the fire service and their home lives. Both communities offer firefighters and their spouses a place to vent, complain, confide, celebrate, find advice and talk with others who get this life. Additionally there are many sub-groups for more personalized focus such as: Wife of the Chief, Fit Fire Wife, Fire Families with Special Needs Children, Blended Fire Families and more. Over 20 special sub-groups now exist to serve these families.
One of 24-7 Commitment’s most unique programs is “Marriage on Fire.” The program is the only resource of it’s kind, a six-week video based program designed by first responders, for first responders. The organization recognizes that marriage is tough; it requires constant attention and when work, kids, finances and calendars take over your life it’s easy to forget that you used to get butterflies every time your spouse walked in a room. Marriage On Fire is designed to be a journey that a couple takes together that strengthens the marriages of both rookies and vets. The program focuses on six pillars: commitment, connection, confidence, communication, compassion and community. With these six things in mind, the program strengthens and builds up fire marriages because when a firefighter is happy and content at home, they are more productive and safe on the job. In the spirit of giving back, for every couple who purchases a Marriage On Fire annual subscription, 24-7 Commitment provides a free one-year subscription to a newlywed firefighter and their spouse, or a couple who is new to the fire service.
Each year, the organization also hosts COMMITMENT Weekends, where firefighters and their spouse participate in a weekend getaway intended to bring focus, fun and intimate moments to their marriage. So far, 3 annual weekends have been held serving over 300 people. In 2016, there will be 4 commitment weekends across the country allowing more fire couples to participate in these life changing milestone weekends. The organization is funded nearly entirely by support from individual donors. Their programs are available for purchase by fire departments and are the perfect offer especially for the newest Fire Academy recruits and new hires.
About the Founders: Lori and Dan Mercer have been married for 13 years. They met (ironically enough) at a fire station. Lori was a newly single mom with a two year old. Dan was a former member of the Marine Corps who, after trying a dozen other jobs, found his home in the firehouse. He was spending four to five nights a week at the firehouse and she was working fifty hours a week at a corporate job and fielding toddler meltdowns. He would never date someone with kids, she was starting over, and not ready for a commitment. But when fate intervened and an old friend named Sean invited Lori and her son to the fire station to burn some energy, the stars aligned. After a two-hour conversation, they were hooked. The following day was Lori’s first introduction into the life of a firefighter’s spouse. Her new crush, her swoon worthy man in uniform was going on shift. Back in the day of no cell phones he’d be unreachable for 24 hours, and free again Tuesday as she headed into a full 8-hour day in the office. Two whole days with no contact; it was the first, and certainly not last, time Lori experienced some disdain for the fire service.
Fast-forward ten years: Lori (with Dan’s blessing) opened up about the struggles of being married to a firefighter in a blog post. Through the responses to her post it became clear that so many other spouses of first responders needed to hear what she had to say. They needed to know they were not alone. The community grew, and the desperate need for resources became clear. Lori and Dan poured their time, energy and resources into Firefighter Wife. It grew to become what it is today, 24-7 Commitment, serving thousands of firefighters and their spouses, strengthening their marriages and providing a safe place for them to seek advice and fellowship. Lori and Dan now have four kids, a turtle and a cat, and a community of thousands of people whose lives wouldn’t be the same without their story. Lori’s since left the corporate world and poured all of her free time into 24-7 Commitment, helping it to grow and increase resources.
For more information, go to www.247commitment.org