Firemen make time for fatherhood

Five days a week, Schenectady Fire Department Lt. Doug Faulisi masquerades as a stay-at-home dad.

Five days a week, Schenectady Fire Department Lt. Doug Faulisi masquerades as a stay-at-home dad.

For every 24-hour shift he works, he receives three days off. A generation ago, that time was traditionally spent at a second job. But now, most of the young fathers on the force use that time to raise their children. For three days out of every four, they can offer their children a stay-at-home parent without sacrificing the pay and independence that comes from holding down a second job.

“It’s awesome. I wouldn’t want it any other way,” said Faulisi, a 16-year veteran of the department who has 6-year-old twin girls.

His daughters are so accustomed to spending their days with their father and his friends — all of whom are also city firefighters with children — that they say they see more dads than moms at any public event.

That’s not quite true — Faulisi is excruciatingly aware that he’s usually the only dad in sight.

“At kids programs, if you go to swim lessons, a lot of the times you’ll be the only dad there,” he said. “I go to their school a lot — there’s only one other dad who comes. At first it felt weird.”

Firefighter Brian Heaney, who has a 6-year-old son and a 23-month-old daughter, said he often wants to assure mothers that he has a job.

“It’s kind of funny. They look at us like, ‘Why aren’t you working?’ ” he said.

But once word gets around that they’re firefighters, all is well.

“Usually they think it’s pretty awesome,” Faulisi said.

Unlike the popular image of bumbling dads trying to figure out how to diaper their child or cook a meal, these firefighters have been taking care of their children since day one. They spend more time with the children than their wives do, and they handle temper tantrums, rudeness and naptime bickering as easily as any stay-at-home mom.

And since the firefighters spend 48 hours a week working together, they have a significant advantage over stay-at-home parents. They have a big social network to draw on.

Most of the young fathers in the department spend their off days with their children, so it’s easy for them to find age-appropriate playmates. And since they all have the same schedule, it’s easy to set up playdates.

So when Heaney heads to a park, it’s likely he will be surrounded by a crowd of fellow firefighters.

“There’s strength in numbers,” Heaney joked.

That’s especially needed the day after their 24-hour shift. Heaney had four hours of sleep during one shift last week, then managed about an hour at home during his children’s naptime. Sharing child supervision duties with another tired firefighter made it easier to get through the day.

“We are busy nonstop,” Faulisi said. “We get very little rest, we get home, our wives go to work — it’s a long day. If we get together, [the children are] not inundating us. They’re more willing to go play together.”

Having a group of firefighters supervising the children — even if the adults are exhausted — can also have surprising benefits. Faulisi’s team sprang to action when a stranger’s child got his head stuck under a railing at a roller rink. Without even discussing their strategy, they twisted the rail and got the boy free before his mother could call 911.

“The mom’s like, ‘Oh my God, it’s like you’ve done that before,’ ” Faulisi said. “We said, ‘oh, well, actually, we’re firemen.’ ”

The children love spending days with their fathers, but they don’t appreciate the fact that their dads must work 24-hour shifts to earn that time.

Faulisi’s daughter Brittney said her dad works too much.

“Sometimes my dad sleeps at work,” she said. “My mom works only half a day.”

Actually her mother works a full day — but comes home before bedtime. Dad calls to say good night when he’s at work, but that’s not enough.

“It’s hard. They say, ‘When are you coming home?’ I have to tell them, ‘Not ‘til tomorrow.’ To them it sounds so far away,” Faulisi said. “They’ve learned to use the phone and now they call me all the time.”

Usually firefighters are asking for humiliation if they whisper lovey-dovey words into a cellphone. Their colleagues often yell out, “Hey, your girlfriend’s here to see you,” or “I love you too, baby,” when firefighters try to have a minute’s conversation with their spouse.

But if the firefighter looks up and says, “Hey, this is my kid,” everyone is silenced.

“There’s pretty much no teasing. That’s pretty much a sacred thing, talking to the kids,” Faulisi said.

And the benefits of three days off far outweigh the children’s unhappiness every fourth day, firefighters say.

“Every day they do something and you look at the clock and say, ‘Wow, if I was working 9 to 5, I’d miss that,’ ” Heaney said. “My wife works 9 to 5. She doesn’t get the joy I do.”

Faulisi suspects that his children are living fuller lives because they’re not in daycare. They get a parent’s attention, healthy meals (his wife is a nutritionist) and his idea of wholesome fun.

“In a lot of daycares there’s a television on. I like to keep them active,” he said. “You get to raise your children with your values — it’s just the little things. If somebody’s not being polite, I immediately have a chance to correct them.”

Heaney has spent countless hours teaching his son Dylan how to play football. Unlike parents who struggle to fit in brief lessons before it gets dark in the evenings, Heaney has all day, all summer long.

Last month, it took Dylan just two days to learn how to ride a bike because he had his father’s constant presence.

“We took the training wheels and just rode for a day and a half,” Heaney said. “Now he’s a little speed demon.”

Last year he taught Dylan how to swim, going to the pool nearly every day off from work during summer. He can’t imagine handing over that responsibility to a daycare provider.

“You get to watch them grow up,” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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