GRAND JUNCTION – You might ask if it’s something in the water.
Or, rather, something in the fire business.
But the recent baby boom at the Grand Junction Fire Department is an anomaly that seems, mostly, to be related to a young group of employees who happen to be starting families at the same time.
In the past 18 months, the department has had 16 babies born, which is definitely a record, since the average most years is only one or two babies born to employees and their families.
Leah Frappier knows because she keeps track. She’s the unofficial leader of the department’s family organization, a sort of auxiliary group supporting the department’s employees and their families. She’s the one who has all the contact information and usually plans baby showers, meals delivered to families when there are illnesses or emergencies, and disseminates information about holiday parties and other gatherings.
“We’ve done so many meal trains, it’s dizzying,” she said. “But it’s really fun to have all these fresh, new families in the department. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has little kids anymore.”
Earlier this month, Frappier organized a group photo of all the employees with their babies at Station 3, a pictorial representation of the department’s baby boom complete with balloons, headbands, onesies and everyone in uniform.
The portrait included babies with 12 dads and one mom. Three other families couldn’t make it, one because the father was called to help on a wildland fire crew battling the 416 Fire near Durango.
These babies have a lot in common they don’t even realize yet. They’ve been born into the fire family, where things like wildfires and other disasters take precedence over something such as taking pictures.
They’ll grow up together with shared experiences – dads and moms who miss holidays and birthdays because they’re responding to house fires and medical emergencies, keeping strangers in the community safe.
Their parents will be sticklers for testing the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the house, because they’ve seen what can happen if the batteries run out.
They’ll come to think of the firehouse as a second home, because that’s where mom or dad is when working on the black, green or red crew schedule and spends the night away from home. And they’ll hear sirens and wonder if mom or dad is on that fire engine driving past.
It is no coincidence the department’s fire academy graduated the biggest class in more than a decade last year – there were 16 graduates – indicating a younger generation of firefighters is coming into the department as others retire.
And the baby boom of the past 1½ years is likely to continue for a little while, as there are additional families expecting children now, said Ellis Thompson-Ellis, department spokeswoman.
Callie Berkson’s husband, Sean, is an EMT and has worked for the department since 2014. Their daughter, Hayden, is 8 months old and is in the middle of the baby boom birth order.
Berkson said she has loved sharing the experience of parenthood with the other fire families, partially because they also share a lifestyle with the hours and demands of a job that affects a whole family, not just the firefighter family.
With a schedule that has her husband on the job up to 72 hours at a time, it’s not like Berkson can just call him and ask him to come home.
“You kind of marry into the fire family and you marry into the job,” she said.
The first time she spent 24 hours home by herself with their newborn baby, it was scary.
But the other families, especially the ones that have the same schedule as her husband’s crew, were incredibly supportive. “You feel like you’re not alone,” she said.
Frappier and Berkson both moved to the Grand Valley for their husbands’ jobs with the department. Frappier didn’t know anyone when she and her husband, Frank, moved to the area five years ago from California, and so she started organizing get-togethers for the fire families.
“That was my way of building a family here,” she said.
Sometimes it’s as easy as texting other spouses when she knows they’re on a 72-hour stretch of work, having them over and holding their babies.
Someday, all those babies will likely go to preschool together, learn how to drive and even graduate from high school together, and there will probably be more photos along the way.
“These dads are really special and I think these kids grow up in a really unique community,” Berkson said. “(My daughter is) going to grow up with an extended family that she can rely on and relate to all these other kids.”