Thursday, January 14, 2016

An Open Letter to the CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings

This is the week before exams as a teacher and a mom of a sophomore can be a bit stressful. When you add the Lieutenant's exam, there's a whole other level of stress. Our house is still not put back together, there are baseboards and radiator covers still in need of a home, there are paint tools and a Christmas tree that still need to be addressed. I have four rooms of  new beautiful floors, but need to find the time to put the pieces all back together has evaded us. It makes me twitchy to have things not in place. We decided to get away from it all, literally just for an hour.

Sometimes I think we are so caught up in the bigger, better, newest, most technologically advanced ways of attracting customers, that we forget that sometimes plain, ole' boring customer service might be the way to go.  

It was not so pretty.

Sally J. Smith 
Buffalo Wild Wings 
5500 Wayzata Blvd. 
Suite 1600 
Minneapolis, MN 55416 

Dear Ms. Smith, 

      My name is Trina. I am a high school history teacher within the Public Schools. I am married to a Firefighter/Paramedic from the Fire Department and we have four lovely Muppets, the rest of the world calls our kids.

Last night, my husband and I were able to sneak out for an hour – literally, in between me coming home with our oldest and the clock maker coming to look at the 1952 grandfather clock we bought to celebrate our new home this fall.  We decided to go for wings, as were celebrating my husband’s (hopefully successful) completion of the Lieutenant’s exam earlier in the day.

Now, with the hectic lifestyle for firefighters, working shifts of 24 hours on and 48 hours off, you can imagine how throwing in the individual schedules of four kids between the ages of 8 and 16 creates a whole other layer of insanity. And, although the world believes that we as teachers are instantly done at 3:55pm when the kids walk out the door, most days I am not leaving until 5:30pm or later. My homework does not even get looked at until after the two youngest are in bed. We do not get many opportunities, especially during the school week, to get out alone.

       We were getting a bite to eat at your restaurant at 3636 S. 27th St in Milwaukee. I was grumbling about being placed at the booth right by the hostess stand, but in the end, I was thankful to be there.

Apparently, a group of teenagers sprayed pepper spray in the restaurant. As the entire southern end of the restaurant began fleeing, we wondered what the issue was. And then I took a breath to make a comment. My nose was on fire, my sinuses began draining and I could not stop coughing. I know now how I will react to exposure to pepper spray, as it apparently was pulled over to our table through the ventilation system. My husband, being a med on scene, advised your manager (Julio, I believe) to clear the restaurant and call 911. He told my husband he was dealing with it internally and there was no need. There were at least two pregnant servers and two little girls with asthma that were being impacted by this exposure, as well as the throngs that suffered irritation from the spray. The whole while, the teens were brought boxes for their food and never asked to leave. They “believed” they were spraying air freshener. As a high school teacher, I can leave my opinion of that statement to your imagination. They did not leave until Engine 12 and the police pulled up. 

I find your manager’s lack of reaction to be inexcusable. I suffered the whole night and continue to sound like a lifelong smoker while I prepare my students for their exams. I am guessing that my lungs have been compromised from the 50+ pulmonary emboli I developed following surgery in 2014 and that would be at the root of the continued discomfort. But who would have thought that dinner out would be off limits? It is completely inconceivable. 

The most frustrating aspect of this whole fiasco is your manager’s lack of concern; for his wait staff, for his customers and for the reputation of that location and truthfully, your chain as a whole. He truly appeared to have no concern for anyone, except his nightly total.

I paid for our drinks and pretzels, as they were delivered as we were about to leave and sat and shivered in the breezeway. My husband encouraged people to leave and seek medical attention if needed since there was a delay in calling 911, tending to those who were struggling until the fire department arrived, by law, he can’t just walk away. 

I posted a note on your company’s Facebook page and was shocked when I was asked to simply fill out a generic “how was your experience” survey. I felt completely disregarded. I am not sure I will be able to get over that. Slow service, doesn’t bother me. I waited tables through college and my first year of teaching all those years ago. That seems to be the biggest complaint of this location. We come back to watch basketball during March Madness because it is a safe place to watch multiple games with the kids. Sadly, I am going to guess we’ll probably pull out our DirecTV Genies instead this year. My health is significantly more important. Slow service didn’t kill my business, apathy did.

I do hope this makes it to your desk. I realize we are not on your radar at all. But in the grand scheme of things, if your company doesn’t care for its employees or its customer base, which is keeping the lights on, there is really no place for that company in my world.

I hope this is addressed properly and timely.
Thank you for your time.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Test Prep

Promotion season is upon us.

We've waited for this for what seems like a lifetime.

There have been study sessions with other guys from his fire and med classes, there have been suggestions and feedback sessions with officers. We spent all of yesterday (that was not spent at mass or watching the Packer Game) practicing and timing his BQ (Background Qualifications) session.

We discussed how tying his leadership in the educational world, as well as being an educator on its own merit was a SIGNIFICANT piece to discuss. We talked about he went from being a voice of a school to a Cub with no voice at the dinner table, and the impact that had. We painted a picture of how he learned to be a better firefighter, by being a Med and how he learned so many more styles of leadership based on that view, that was nearly the outside looking in. He opted to use my teaching method for his presentation - telling a story. Starting with his boyhood trips to the firehouse with his dad to do truck inspections, moving on to becoming a teacher and ending with his evil wife, who dragged him to the city - kicking and screaming - where you could only be a professional FF. We discussed the significance of Peer Support and tending to the needs of the WHOLE firefighter and how you cannot treat our exceptionally young Cubs, the same way as you always have. Their brains have not fully developed. There needs to be a transition from hazing and busting your chops to mentoring and instruction. 

And we had to make that all fit into 13 minutes. They will be given 15 minutes, but 2 need to be reserved for Q/A by the interview team.

I know he is meeting with some of the guys today, I know he is meeting with an officer while the girls are in practice and I know we will hit the one more time run-throughs tonight when they get home. I feel like the study sessions are the same as they were in the academy, med school...perhaps it is just forever cyclical. 

I am proud of all that he has accomplished. This whole story was one of risk - leaving an established career in education at 34, with a wife and 4 little kids is INSANE, but not as uncommon as I would have thought. 

He is not the grizzled "fireman's firefighter" that you so often see portrayed when discussing this world. Maybe he is the future. Maybe his education degree (although not recognized for pay stipend each year) truly is invaluable to this department. 

We need to make sure our firefighters are well trained, know their stuff, trust each other and all that jazz. But we also need to make sure that our leaders address the whole picture of their firefighters. The stresses that they have experienced on a daily basis, would wear many of us out - if not drive us out of the profession. They have seen losses and experienced saves that create such a pendulum of emotions, someone should be passing out Dramamine. They are berated in the media when lives are lost - because they did not get their in time. They are chastised for eating together. They are fearful of looking too much like cops in the dark alleys. And they are away from their families far more than they would like to be.

All of these emotions and scenarios create a whole picture, which is not always public and not always pretty. But, it needs to be addressed.

I am confident that my FireMan will become that amazing officer.

Far cry my a post I would have had 5 years ago, when I was still trying to survive this insane world.

Send your luck, juju and prayers our way. His orals are tomorrow.

Be safe. Send some your firefighter's way today.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Revisiting "The Notebook"

I have had a few FFWs reach out to me about a post I wrote  for in 2013.

It was probably the hardest and most emotional post I have written.

Revisiting it, that hasn't changed. I haven't looked at it beyond packing it up for the move, in over a year. I guess it was time to take a look, again.

That Knock on the Door – LODD Preparation for a Firefighter Wife

Knowing that I will be a total and complete disaster, I have made a list.  My Secret List.  I have it in a ordinary notebook on my dressing table.  It is not pretty.  It looks like it could be my kids’.  I don’t share it.  I don’t talk about it.  My hands shake whenever I pull it out.  My FF knows I have it, but does not know what it looks like. It has some links and some notes.  My list comes from questions that I have asked him – sometimes on the sly and sometimes rather blatant.

A composition notebook that could be in any backpack in the world…
but, it is my secret notebook.

It has print outs from the local and from the IAFF.  It has spots for scripture passages, pall bearers and speakers.  I have the contact information for the cemetery – luckily we already have a place in a family plot.  I know that the department will take care of much of the details for me when it comes to the actual service, but there is so much we don’t ever think about.

So, without all of the specifics of my notebook, simply because I will never make it through this post with all of the tears, here are some links and lists I have to work from.

The first page I have written – BREATHE and CRY AS MUCH AS YOU NEED. In big bold letters.  I need to give myself that permission rather than try to play the stoic statue.  I need that permission.  You might too, or perhaps you are comfortable enough, but here’s where you put anything that will help you get through that initial shock.

The next page is a list of numbers and people I want each person to call for me, so that I don’t have to rehash the loss verbally quite so much.  His parents – with all of their numbers, with a note for them to call their family and friends.  My parents – with a note to call each of their perspective families.

I also have the kids’ school numbers there.  I can’t even begin to imagine how hard that would be – trying to manage my grief while breaking such heartbreaking news and watching their world crumble in an instant.  But I digress…

The next number is my firefighter wife next door – cell and work, and her Lt’s number – again, even though he would probably already know.  Chances are, since our FFs work the same shift, she would probably be right there when I got the news.  She would see that department SUV pull up, but just in case, I have them readily accessible.

I also have a few firefighter wives that are not local, but are on this list as well.

I have his partner’s number and his Battalion Chief’s cell number and the Union President’s number and email.  Again, they would all know what happened (probably before me), but if I have a question or  need help with something, I don’t have to search to try and find them.

I have two funeral homes – one close to the Basilica and one my family has used forever – their numbers and a contact person at each.  I also have the number for our parish with this list, with the extension for each of the priests.  The Basilica is a most beautiful place to say good-bye.

The cemetery – their fax number and phone number – made it to my list.

Make this list your own.  Be sure you have a go to person.  One who can take calls when you can’t. One who can organize meals for your family and help spread information.  You might want to make them your number one call just so you have someone to lean on.

I have an entire packet from our IAFF Local printed out and highlighted/marked up.

If needed, call (866) 736-5868 to request help from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s Local Assistance State Team (LAST).
No matter what, you are never alone!

Funeral and Burial Plans
This is probably the hardest part of my notebook to discuss – mainly because I have asked him some of these questions and others are just too painful.  I have asked what scripture passages he wants (to which he shrugged his shoulders and so I have put some ideas of my own in to share with the priests) and music.  One of the songs we sang at a friend’s father’s funeral in college, and so it breaks my heart every time I hear it, is one he would like.  Mental note to myself – get a copy of the sheet music.

Class As – if your firefighter does not have one for burial purpose’s Lighthouse Uniform will provide one for free for Fallen FFs.  If you have a local uniform distributor, check with them.  Local is always easier during these hard times.

Wedding ring – I wear his ring a third of the time.  It is important to me.  I will have his wedding ring on his hand for the services, but I will ask to have it removed before burial.  I have a plain titanium ring that I bought him for work – which he doesn’t wear – that I will probably replace it with.  It is important to me that he have a ring with him when we part ways in this world.

Burial – I have a folder of pictures that I will have printed out for his casket.  If I don’t send him into a fire without pictures of us with him in his helmet, how I can I send him on to the next life without them.  This set of pictures is constantly changing.  I have a note in my notebook with their location, but it is not on my laptop to keep my husband shielded from them.

I also want to make sure he his buried with his St. Florian’s Medal and his half of our Mizpah coin. When I touch my half of the coin while he is on shift, it reminds me to say a prayer that he stays safe. When we are separated by death, it will continue to remind me to say a prayer.

A BIGGER question for burial is does he want to be buried?  Would he prefer cremation?  We have one plot.  I will be cremated and under the headstone.  He will be buried.  Not easy questions and oh so awkward to even bring up.  But, easier to know ahead of time.

Music – Speak with your FF, does he have a hymn that he has loved since he was a child.  My husband and I met in our college choir and we did many pieces of sacred music that we fell in love with.  Just as an example I have John Rutter’s The Lord is My Shepherd  and Franz Biebel’s Ave Maria included in my list.  No celebration of my husband’s life could be complete without these pieces that were such a big piece of his life.  But, this also means you need to make arrangements with your church, parish or funeral home for musicians if they are not in your close circle of friends.

Keep that in mind, also.

Readings – If you are at a loss for readings, there are several funeral planning guides out there for the general public.  I have the Memphis Diocese’s Planning a Catholic Funeral bookmarked and I looked at a United Church of Christ guide, but there are so many others.  Don’t feel you HAVE to be this specific.  Your spiritual leader has done this many many times and will be of great assistance to you in your time of need.  I just know that I am a control freak who will be out of control.  I will need this much detail to feel quasi-comfortable.  As with all of this information, do what works best for YOU.

This is just my plan.  Feel free to use it as a starting point, but it does not have to be a replica for your plan.

Readers and speakers – I have not yet asked him about this.  Who do you want to speak?  It can be a joint decision or just leave it up to him or have people in mind should the need arise.  Make a note and be sure to add their phone numbers to your phone list.

Photographer – I would like one.  The images might be more than the kids and I can take at that moment in time, but they will eventually be a beautiful reminder of a beautiful service commemorating a beautiful life.  Your department might just provide one. PLEASE be sure to check with you church or parish BEFORE the service.  Many are okay with photographers as long as no flash is used, but you want to be certain.

Pall Bearers – Another list of people I have not been able to ask him about.  Does he want our oldest son, both boys or none of the above?  Only if they are adults? Only FFs or family as well?  I am sure there is a protocol for an LODD, but I want to make sure that I have his input.

Badges – When my FF retires, he wants to give each of our muppets (our nickname for our lovely children) a set of replica badges – one of each level he achieved in the department.  For my funeral plan section, I thought it would be a nice touch to give each of the Muppets a replica of his current badge, as well as a mini shield key ring  from his current helmet shield.

ME – I have a note to make sure someone makes appointments for me to get my hair and make-up done.  I am not going to be able to stop crying long enough to put on mascara, so I am hoping someone else doing it will be enough of a distraction that we can get through that part.

I have taken the section of the Survivor’s guide that provides a Contact Form (p. 15) and printed out several copies of that.  You need to know who you are talking to, about what and when.  This just makes it so much easier to recall.  You are going to be calling sooooo many people.

Along with these, you will need death certificates.  The  guide suggests that you get 20, I have a note to get 25.  It is cheaper to get them en masse than it is to order a few more at a later time.  Make a list of all the places  that will require this – banks, insurance, etc.  And then order extras.

This is such a personal issue, please read through this section of the guide carefully.  It does indeed vary by where you are in life.  Make sure to research what benefits you are entitled to, through your department, state and the federal government.  There are many scholarship opportunities for children of firefighters who gave all, please take advantage of them.

One Last Thing…

The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone.  No matter how you feel like you are on a desolate island, all by yourself, you are never alone. Your family, your department and firewives from around the world are here to lean on.  Please be sure you reach out any of these resources, even if you only need to hear that things will be okay.

Don’t let this overwhelm you.  Don’t try and plan this all in one day.  Take to your firefighter and your family.  Simply know that there is a reference that is available for you in your time of need.
Love those firefighters like there is no tomorrow.  Don’t waste a single minute.

So, some of the things I have added in here since I wrote this post, nearly three years ago...

  • I bought him a Thin Red Line Qalo ring earlier this winter. I want to make sure that he is buried in that ring after we switch out the diamond ring. I want that small part of me to stay with him. If that ring is damaged, I have the company's number in case I need to replace it.
  • Now that he is on the TEMS team, I would like his TEMS gear there and I will request that their SUV be in the procession behind his Engine.

  • Marriage License - I am SO slacking on this one! When we got married, we never got a copy of our license. We he came on the job in 2010, we needed to get a copy so that I could be carried on his insurance. And I never thought to get a second or third copy. I need to get that and get it in my Notebook. I have one of our wedding pictures in there to attempt to remind me to head up to that courthouse.

  • Prayer Cards - I have to talk to him about I sit with another FF's prayer card on my dresser.
  • Music that he has mentioned in the last few years has been added, along with specific readings.
  • Phone numbers - They change more frequently than you would think. I just made sure that I updated them, several of them were out of date.
  • Our oldest - He is active in our Explorers program. He is planning on following in his father's footsteps. If he is a cadet or on the job, that had a whole other dynamic to this discussion - for both of them.
Please don't be afraid to reach out if there is anything with this you'd like to talk about. If you have ideas for what should be added, please let me know. I know there is probably more. Make this work for you.

Have a good day. Have the tough talk. Reach out to those around you. Kiss that firefighter.


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