The Marriage May-Day: Firefighters need to call for help

The Marriage May Day:

‘Knowing when to call for help’

In the fire service, we are well trained on the subject of Rapid Intervention and May-Day scenarios. We train on possible downed firefighter situations and how to extricate ourselves or our brothers.  For the non-fire service reader let’s give a brief summation of a May Day scenario.

A reported house on fire is dispatched and as the fire department arrives they receive a report of a resident who is trapped in their bedroom.  The first due Engine establishes command and after performing a 360 takes his/her crew in for the rescue.  Other companies are arriving as the first Battalion Chief assumes command.  The firefighters become trapped as they were searching for the resident and are pinned down by a roof collapse. The downed firefighters are able to transmit a May Day, a call for help, in which this information is received: “May-Day, May-Day, May-Day, we are trapped in the Alpha/Bravo corner of the residence, this is Engine 99, we were performing a primary approximately 50’ in, and we will need RIT with a way to cut us out.”  This is called a LUNAR: location, unit & name, assignment, & the resources needed to affect the rescue. When this happens, a Rapid Intervention Team is deployed (RIT). This is a well-trained crew who is situationally aware of the incident. They have conducted a 360, thrown ground ladders for additional points of egress, controlled utilities, and have been attentive to the fire ground radio traffic.  They immediately go in to affect a rescue on those in need. At this point the Incident Commander orders additional resources, continues to fight the fire, and insures fire ground accountability.

What does this all have to do with marriage?

Nine out of twelve firefighter marriages end in divorce. That’s right 9 out of 12! As a profession, we are higher than the national average (which is 54%).  Firefighters face an enormous amount of stress and it often carries over into their personal lives.  What can we do about this problem? Let’s look at from a firefighter’s viewpoint:

Scene Size-up:

As a firefighter, the process of size-up is a continuous one that begins before the rig ever leaves the station. At a fire scene, the Incident Commander (IC) is constantly evaluating the conditions and whether the situation is improving.  In marriage, we should be constantly assessing our relationship. As a husband, I should be continuously studying and learning about my wife. Initially our passions, or fire if you will, are great for each other. Why do we treat our spouse’s differently after we are married? We shouldn’t stop dating each other after we are married. It is merely the beginning of a lifelong journey.

As we go through life, the conflicts and commitments tend to cause us to focus less on each other and more on the immediate needs/concerns/or problems of life. Couples slowly begin to drift apart due to a lack of attention and care.  A relationship takes a great deal of work and dedication. The couple must be holding on to each other during the hard times or they will drift apart.

Working Fire: You have come to the realization that your marriage is in trouble. Sadly, most realize this way too late. It comes when they learn of infidelity or have been served divorce papers. As on a fire scene we have to be proactive, having an Incident Action Plan and or a strategy is key to the successful mitigation of an incident. In marriage, we need to embrace the plan, God’s plan, and follow His principles.

If you have read the Bible, you will find that the marital relationships that are referenced there are not without fault. Some faced great difficulty, trial, adultery, and some of it is even comical as Solomon wrote “It is better for a man to live on the corner of a roof top than underneath with a nagging & complaining wife.” (See Proverbs).

Firefighters tend to be problem/solution oriented. Someone calls for help and we fix their problem. It troubles us to realize that we have a problem that we are not able to solve. In firefighting, we train, read, exercise and discipline our lives so that when we face adversity we are ready. We have thousands of hours spent on perfecting or learning our craft. How many hours have you invested in being a better husband or wife?

We need to be putting our house in order: God, our spouse, our children, family, friends etc. Identifying our problems early on and taking ownership of your part in it shows that you are not trying to blame your spouse. By coming to the one you love in humility and brokenness shows that you truly love them. This shows that you care more about the relationship than more about who is right or wrong. “Confession is the first step in repair and often the most difficult. Without confession, forgiveness is impossible” (Big Ideas of the Bible by Mark Fackler). In my life, I always say: “I can right or I can be happy”.  Being right is far less important to me that showing my wife that I love her more than life itself.

I look back at our wedding day where we stood before God and many witnesses and remember the promise that we made. Do we take that promise lightly? Do we lessen the value of our commitment when our spouse has wronged us and refuses to change? In the book “The power of a praying husband” Stormie Omartian states “But God spoke to my heart, saying, It is not a matter of who needs to change, it is a matter of who is willing to change. If you’re willing to change, I (God) can work through you right now.”(pg.22)



Calling the May-Day

May-Day: You are in trouble. Your marriage has collapsed. Your spouse is leaving or has left you. Now what?

Call for help! James 4:2 states “You have not because you ask not”.  Our pride is often our biggest enemy. We believe that we can do anything. After all, people call us to solve their problems right? This can be a detriment to your marriage. Call upon God, humble yourself and ask for help. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14).

Reach out to your brothers/sisters in the fire service. I find it appalling that we will lay down our lives for complete strangers but yet we will not confide in one another when we are hurting. I know that many of us have fallen victim to confiding in someone only to find out that they betrayed our trust. When you are hurting don’t put up a false front. Those who know you best will see through it quickly and if you don’t confess it to them you may find your situation worsening.

Humble yourself and realize that your marriage is more important than another’s opinion. If you are a firefighter who is pinned down and needs help, you do not care who helps you as long as help comes and comes quickly. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) My coworkers and I believe that it is better to have abundant resources than having to wait for the cavalry. In other words, “I’d rather be looking at it than looking for it.” The body of Christ is all around you and if you call His name He will be there.

Additional Resources: Many churches offer marital counseling, divorce care, and other marriage ministries to help those in need. As in the fire service if you think you are in trouble you probably are: Call the May Day! Don’t let your pride get in the way of losing your spouse and your children.

Rapid Intervention Teams: You have called for help and are awaiting the cavalry. Sadly, not everyone’s relationships will be reconciled. As in RIT scenarios not all firefighters are rescued successfully.  The most common similarities in fire ground Line of Duty Deaths after a May Day has been transmitted were: lack of fire ground accountability, no hose line protection, and poor communication.

Marriage Accountability:

In marriage, if we are not growing closer together we are probably drifting apart. Understanding the need to constantly invest in your marriage helps to put our priorities in order. Your marriage takes maintenance. As a couple, you need to be investing in each other through prayer, date nights, family time, marriage ministries (such as Focus on the Family’s weekend to remember marriage conference) and taking the time to help each other grow closer as you further your relationship with God.

No protection:

If we step outside of our marriage in areas that could be viewed as inappropriate we are setting ourselves up for disaster. Some signs of being unprotected are:

If you spend more time with your buddies than you do with your spouse(Warning!)

If you find yourself confiding in marital matters, consistently, with another person who is not your spouse (Warning!)

If you have a habit that takes precedence or priority over your spouse or family (Warning!)

Many husbands and wives suffer divorce due to infidelity/adultery. But the common misconception is that it is due to a physical affair. If you are married and you allow the devil to get a foot hold in your life do not be surprised when the divorce papers arrive. Pornography, alcohol abuse, addiction, job lust (loving your job more than your spouse), activities that consume your time so you cannot spend time with your family (these can be good activities as well), and anything that you allow to take precedence over your relationship with God and your wife will ultimately drive a wedge between you.

Poor communication:

I heard a marriage counselor state that most people learn how to “not talk to each other” by getting married. He went on to say, walk into any restaurant and you can immediately tell who most of the married couples are. They are the ones sitting there silently or eating and not paying any attention to each other.

On the fire ground communication is critical. Without good communication, someone’s life may be lost. The same goes for our marriage, without good communication and the willingness to talk to each other (lovingly) we are already headed for a disaster. Take the time to talk with your spouse. Listen empathically, this means that you really care what he/she is saying, and be engaged which in my case means: put down the phone, stop doing what you are doing, and listen to your spouse by looking at them directly.

Marital LUNAR:

My purpose in writing this is not to offend or hurt anyone but to help. A firefighter who transmits a May Day sends out information based on the LUNAR acronym. It provides those who are coming to save them with critical information.  Calling your LUNAR in a Marriage May Day could be seen as this:

Lost: My location in my marriage has become uncertain and I need RIT (Redemption Intervention Team) I will submit and follow my GPS (God’s Plan for Salvation).

Understanding: Verbalizing to your spouse that you understand the seriousness of the situation. Confess your brokenness, take ownership of your part of the relationship, and in true humility show your spouse that your greatest concern is for the restoration & renewal of your marriage.

Name your problem: Look at your situation and take a step back. Where did your troubles really begin? What was the “slow fade” that caused your relationship to crumble? True reconciliation will only occur if you understand what brought you to this point in the first place.

Assignment: You now know the seriousness of your situation, you have admitted you have a problem, you have named it, and now it’s time to take action. Step forward in faith with your spouse and begin working on the problem(s).  This will be uncomfortable but necessary.

Reconciliation: The goal in calling the marriage May Day is not to rescue you from your current circumstances but to reconcile your hurts, wrongs, and lack of trust so that your marriage can begin a new as Christ has redeemed you. Let Christ dwell in your heart and focus on His will. His Holy Spirit will guide, teach, and admonish you along the way. Understand that this can be a slow and long process. Your relationship, most likely, did not fall apart over night; so don’t expect your spouse to jump right into the relationship like nothing happened. Something did happen! Now, take this set of difficult circumstances and use it to make your relationship stronger. But remember, you must take each step slowly. Your spouse needs to trust you again their trust has to be earned.


I see a tremendous need in our profession for marriage ministry and counseling daily. If you are as aware of this as I am, I challenge you to do something truly heroic: Be there for your brother, listen to them, guide them, and don’t let them travel down a road that could lead to harm. You swore an oath to protect lives and property. This oath should begin by protecting your family and your co-workers around you. Don’t turn a blind eye to their problem and use their plight as gossip material later.  Step up to the challenge and show them that you truly care. Let’s save ourselves so we can continue the greatest tradition the fire service has to offer which is that of Sacrifice:  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). Sacrifice your time, your energy, your pride and help one another.

Stay Safe & God Bless

Andy J. Starnes

Isaiah 65:24


5 thoughts on “The Marriage May-Day: Firefighters need to call for help

  1. Your post touched me dearly.. After 25 years together…my husband and I are divorced. I forgave his cheating…was always wondering when I would come first…that never happened…Why do firefighters take out their pain on their families…We love you and your friends…but we are important too… The only good thing about divorce…is he has to spend time with the kids…now they go bowling, movies, ..but my kids don’t know why they can’t have a regular family like everyone else..

    1. God Bless you for sharing! I wrote this article because I watched this occur in my own family as a teenager and it almost occurred in my own marriage. I pray that God will bring you comfort and healing.

  2. Hi Andy, My husband and I are SO EXCITED to see your blog. It was funny. We are always looking for articles and statistics on marriages and infidelity in the fire service.
    We have been there, my husband is a firefighter and an EMS Manager. We are dedicated to speaking to couples in any EMS service on infidelity in the EMS service. We would love for you to go to our blog and read some of our blogs. Because I am the hurt spouse, I have done most of our blogs with my husbands input. It is 911 marriage.
    We are in a small town and affairs are everywhere yet, are highly elevated in the EMS services such as fire, ambulance, ER, hospitals and many others.
    Thank you from a fire wife who has been there many times, for helping prevent and restore God’s blessing of marriage.

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