Pulling on the navy blue uniform, Lt. Chad Dean knew it was going to be strange Tuesday to be away from his son, Parker, for the first time in seven weeks.
But it was time for him to rejoin his crew at the Hall County Fire Services station, a second family waiting with tons of questions.
“This morning when I left the house and I knew I was going to be away from him for 24 hours for the first time, it’s a little weird. But then you get to the station and you see the guys and you kind of get back into the old routine,” he said.
On a different shift, firefighter Jonathan Calhoun and his wife Brandi were expecting at the same time. Calhoun’s baby girl, Brylee Addison Calhoun, arrived March 13.
Brylee makes it difficult for Calhoun to leave for work, as she wakes up and stays happy through the morning.
“It’s pretty tough walking out of the house when she’s all smiling and stuff,” he said. “It’s like, C’mon, kid. Why you want to do that? Why can’t you just still be asleep, let me kiss you on the head and walk out the door?’’
The two men run calls out of some of the busiest stations in the county that serve South Hall.
On a 24-hour shift with 48 hours off, Calhoun and Dean testified to the strength of their wives to take control of the house when they are away for days at a time.
“The time commitment away from home is pretty hard, not so much on us because most of us actually enjoy our jobs. It’s harder on our spouses being at home,” Calhoun said.
With Chad Dean at work, wife Kimberlee Dean was quickly learning how to do things around the house one-handed while carrying Parker.
“It’s trying to figure out how to do it by myself, and I guess I’m going to have to learn to do it because every third day he will be gone,” she said.
After a doctor’s appointment on Dean’s first day back, Kimberlee and Parker made a pit stop at the station for an hour.
“It melts my heart to see Chad with him. I obviously loved him before but I love him even more now that he’s a dad, just seeing him bond with Parker and talk to him,” Kimberlee Dean said. “To see Chad’s face light up when we do just pop in when he hasn’t seen him for 24 hours, it’s an awesome feeling.”
A firefighter’s work is unpredictable, Calhoun said, with either a night filled with fires or a shift focused on training.
“I might get more rest being at work than she’s getting at work taking care of the kids,” said Calhoun, who also has a 4-year-old, Brayden Isaac Calhoun.
When Calhoun is home, he wants to be fully committed to being there.
“I don’t want to take a nap and ruin or waste any part of that day,” he said.
The Deans have a similar rule: no cellphones and turning off the TV.
As most of the other firefighters at the station have kids, Dean had a wealth of knowledge to tap in to when trying to learn the ropes. One in particular was a paramedic who had a boy almost two years before Dean.
“He was able to talk to me a lot about the kind of things that I could expect and that kind of stuff while I was on shift with him at the fire department,” he said. “He helped me out a lot in terms of getting ready and getting prepared for the baby.”
The same holds true for Kimberlee, who has connected with the families of other firefighters at the department.
“Any time I have a mommy question, I can call either one of the wives, and they are very helpful,” she said.
Calhoun already had a second job working with American Medical Response in DeKalb County, and he has recently decided to pick up shifts at Jackson County EMS.
The decision came to whether it was worth to pay for child care or supplement the single income in the household.
As for the Deans, Kimberlee works as a manager at an ambulance service run with other family members, which allows her to bring Parker to the office and also work from home. The company is also where the couple first met.
After having kids, the work doesn’t change, Calhoun said. It doesn’t make the man more cautious or change the way he does his job.
“If you run a call with a kid that’s the same age as your kid, of course it’s going to affect you when you go home and see that baby. But as far as the way you do things, I don’t feel like it does,” he said.