VALDOSTA – First-responders live a life on the frontline as problem-solvers and safe-guards. 

Beyond the uniform, they're husbands and wives.

The second installment of Spouses On-Call details the lives of two wives who are married to firefighters.

Capt. Matt and Tonya Davis, Valdosta Fire Department

The wife of a firefighter, and the operations manager for the Lowndes County 911 Center, Tonya Davis knows the life of a first-responder all too well. 

She met her husband, Matt Davis, while a freshman in high school. He was a senior. The two did not begin dating until after Matt Davis' graduation when Tonya Davis was completing her junior year. 

"When we officially started dating, he was already in the profession," Tonya Davis said. "He was already a firefighter at that point."

Fanning the Flame: Wives shed light on being married to firefighters

Submitted PhotoMatt and Tonya Davis were married in April 2004. 

They married in April 2004 and have two sons and one daughter. 

Matt Davis has been with the Valdosta Fire Department since 1997. 

Q: What was your reaction to your husband being in fire service?

"Honestly, didn't really give a lot of thoughts about it early on. He did volunteer stuff, and I already knew that aspect so it wasn't a surprise. One of the things I think with most firefighters and just public safety in general, for a lot of them, it's not just a career. It's a part of who they are so I already knew that about him and was not surprised that he had gone into this professionally."

Q: Does his passion attract you and why?

"Yes ... I am also a driven person, so seeing the passion that he has and what he is able to put forth into what he does wholeheartedly, it is attractive. There are some people out there, they only give half or they just come in and do what they need to do and they go home, and when your in public safety, you don't get that at all because it is a passion and it's a part of who they are so you do see that drive and determination in the vast majority of them to do better and be their best."

Q: What makes you the proudest to be married to a first-responder?

"Just the fact that you're out there making a difference. You're contributing back to the community. You're doing things that a lot of regular citizens don't understand. They don't understand the sacrifices that it takes. ... You're literally doing it because you love what you do. You do it from the heart and the community benefits from the service."

Q: What are some challenges you face being married to a firefighter? 

"There's going to be times where you miss the holidays (and) you miss the birthdays. That stuff has to be rescheduled. There is no normal. There's one call that can change whether they're off that day or they get called in that day. When the storms come, and everybody is packing up and taking care of their families and putting their families somewhere safe, they're (firefighters) not getting that luxury. He's packing up to come to work and to leave us. As someone who's married to someone in public safety, you've got to be strong in yourself to take care of the family because that's the last thing they need to be worried about while they're out there doing their jobs and helping to protect and serve the community."

Q: With you being a first-responder, does that help you understand his job more and his need to leave you sometimes?

"It absolutely does help me. From being in 911, I see the other side of what they're having to do whenever they go out so I understand a lot more of what he's doing when he's out on the fire scenes. ... You hear things and the situations they get into as they come up on the radio, but then being in my field, I have the same thing. I get the after-hours phone calls."

Fanning the Flame: Wives shed light on being married to firefighters

Submitted PhotoMatt and Tonya Davis became engaged in 2003. 

Q: Are you ever in a position where you have to leave Matt with the family for work?

"Yes. Our dynamic is unique in the fact that when it's hurricane season, and we activate the Emergency Operations Center, typically that requires both of us to come into work. I will be at the Emergency Operations Center in a 911 role, and then, he is either there or actually helping staff a truck for responses. So, it requires a support system because both of us are gone from the house, so we rely on our family and friends to help take care of the children."

Q: How do you trust that your husband is going to return home safely to you after he's dealt with a fire or another work emergency?

"They train a lot, and he does a lot of extra classes he's taking that's really tested his abilities to respond in fire situations. ... You react how you train, how you train to react; so, the more you do it, the more it just clicks. ... He's trained to get his own self out of a situation if he were to ever become trapped or injured. The guys that he works with ... they get their people out, so I don't really think about it. At the end of the day ... they can do all of that, but in my opinion, it's not them that decides if they come home or not. It's all about the Lord's timing and the way God works things out so if that day were to come, that's just part of it. That's something that you have to accept as a real possibility when you're married to somebody in public safety. ... You can't be afraid of that."

Q: Was there ever a time when you were afraid?

"No, I've never really been afraid. The only time I got a little bit nervous, he was working a call and just the way radio traffic was going down, I just got nervous. ... I actually enjoyed being on the radio when he was out there working a large fire doing what he loved because it was intriguing to me to hear him on the radio. But this one just didn't set good. The conditions weren't extremely good. It wound up being that he got sick after the fire, so he got overheated."

Q: How did you calm your nerves?

"I was at work ... and I didn't really have time for nerves myself. I kind of just acknowledged the thought and kept going and knowing if something's wrong with him while he's working, he's out there with what I consider to be some of the best firefighters around. So, if he needs something, they've got his back."

Q: What other information would you like to add?

"I just think that it takes a lot of patience, a lot of trust and understanding and a lot of support to be a spouse of someone who's in public safety just to handle what you gotta handle at home and know that's a part of who they are and it's OK. They're going to go out there and do work and you're going to handle what you have to handle at home. ... There's no need to sit around and be scared and wonder what tomorrow might bring or if they're coming home because when they signed up to do the job, they signed up for those risks. When you signed on to date them or to marry them, you sign on to accept those risks yourself and understand that's their passion and their love."

Sgt. Jeff and Laura Fitch, Lowndes County Fire Rescue

Although the Fitches first met 20 years ago during a holiday dinner party, they did not begin dating until two years later. 

Jeff Fitch was active in the Air Force at the time. 

"We had our first lunch date the day after 9/11 and he deployed shortly after," Laura Fitch said. "During another deployment, we got engaged over the phone on his birthday."

Following 11 months of dating, the two were married Aug. 2, 2002. They have two daughters, Amanda and Hope.  

After retiring in 2006, Jeff Fitch started as a volunteer fireman for Lowndes County Fire Rescue before becoming a paid firefighter. He's been a paid firefighter for more than 12 years.

Fanning the Flame: Wives shed light on being married to firefighters

Amanda M. Usher | The Valdosta Daily TimesLaura Fitch believes public safety is a calling for her husband, Sgt. Jeff Fitch of Lowndes County Fire Rescue.

Q: What was your reaction when you learned your husband would become a firefighter? 

"It (was) nothing out of the ordinary for me. My daddy was a volunteer in Naylor (Fire Department) for over 30 years. My mom was a volunteer firefighter for a few years, also."

Q: Why or why not does his passion to serve the community attract you to him? 

"I have never known Jeff to not be serving his country, county or community. This is innately who Jeff is and one of the first things that I noticed about him while he was in the military."

Q: What makes you the proudest to be married to a first-responder? 

"Jeff has the capability to always know how to react and comfort everyone he has come across as a first-responder. This is a true calling for Jeff and those that know him best would agree 100 percent."

Q: What are some challenges you face being married to a firefighter? 

"Time together between work schedules. Knowing when he has had a bad call and knowing if he wants space for a little bit or if he wants to talk. Any person that is married to a first-responder will understand this." 

Q: If there is one, recall a moment when you were nervous or fearful for the safety of your husband while he was on-duty? 

"Jeff was burned – defective gloves – in a training incident this past February while I was working out of state. I wasn’t able to get to him until about eight hours later. Faith in God and knowing that he has a strong brotherhood with co-workers makes it easier. They stayed with him until I could get from South Carolina to Shands and kept me updated. The truth of it is that I’ve never known Jeff when he hasn’t been in the Air Force or a firefighter. The first four years of our marriage, he was still active-duty and deployed several months over every year overseas. I learned not to let the fear or worry control my thoughts and to have a peace about it – he is doing what he loves."

Fanning the Flame: Wives shed light on being married to firefighters

Submitted PhotoLaura and Jeff Fitch met during a dinner party and have been married since 2002. Fitch is a sergeant with Lowndes County Fire Rescue.

Q: How do the two of you manage schedules and family time? Is this time ever interrupted due to a work emergency? 

"He works every third day and I work long days also. We have to put forth the effort to spend and plan time together. If we don’t, our everyday routine lives take over. When our girls come home, we both take off the needed time from work to spend with our daughters. Time is precious and not guaranteed."

Q: What support do you provide to your spouse?

"We work as a team. We both do the yard and house work. As far as other support, I’m always ready to listen when he wants to talk about a call. I’m also his confidant. We like to sit outside on the porch and just hang out together."

Spouses On-Call is a weekly November series focusing on life being married to a first-responder. 

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