Reflections of a Fire-Wife During Fire Season


Dr. Rachelle Zemlok

Photo Courtesy Landon Jensen

I’ll never forget the first wildland fire my husband was deployed to. We had just gotten engaged a month before. He was so impatient waiting to finally be on duty when a strike team was sent out. He was excited to put his training into action, and I was excited for him because it was something he really wanted. Then the call came in, I heard from him when they were already 6 hours away and he didn’t know when he would be back. I was excited for him, we exchanged I love you’s then hung up. Fear and sadness immediately came over me. As I tried to reflect on what I was feeling, a couple of things crossed my mind.

  1. He was about to run into a fire! A big one! I usually heard about how fires went after he was safely at home. I had never had the experience of him telling me he is on his way in.

  2. “You’re my future now!” There was something attached to the fact that we had just got engaged and agreed we wanted to be married to one another forever. How is it that you are running off to put yourself in danger!? What about me!? What about us!?

I thought back to months earlier when we prepped his “strike team bag” that he would take to work every day just in case. It’s like a hospital bag for labor, just loaded with new socks and underwear at the ready for when the call comes in. I added some extra essentials like snacks and instant coffee packs. I even slipped an envelope in that had a picture of us with a note. It sounds silly, but I wanted him to have something from me telling him I love him and just how very proud I was of him for pursuing the job he loves to protect our community. Just writing this now brings tears to my eyes. I remember also unexpectedly crying while I wrote that note months prior to his deployment. I realized that by writing that note I was acknowledging that he was one day going to be reading it while off in a dangerous situation that I had no control over. Writing that meant I was giving him my full support to do the job he loves, even though it placed his life at great risk. It hit me, the weight of how little control I had as a first responder spouse.

He goes to work and I have no option but to let go of the potential outcomes, no matter how scary that might be. I have to trust his decisions and dreams. His passion to serve is greater than himself and his family (which is saying a lot for the strong family man he is). I have to just trust that and support it. The only control I have is to cherish all the times he is home safe with us. To make the most of the time we get together. To make sure we don’t go to work frustrated with one another. To discuss our feelings when they come up so they don’t take away from our experiences more than they need to. And to appreciate the time we have… just in case. So I do… with pride. And we will teach our son to do the same.

About Dr. Rachelle Zemlok

Dr. Rachelle Zemlok is a licensed clinical psychologist in California specializing in working with first responder families and supporting parents with children diagnosed with ADHD or pose behavioral challenges. Dr. Zemlok is also a Cordico Advisory Board member.  For more information on Dr. Zemlok or to connect with her please visit her website at