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Romance on the Fire Lines

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IMG_9126-webFirefighting in Tandem

Imagine you have a mutual crush on a coworker. You feel giddy and protective, but as volunteer firefighters you do your job, and you do it right. Then comes an “all call” because the Santa Ana winds are flaring and fires have started. Together with a strike team made up of numerous engines throughout the county, you drive together into Hell on earth, where the majority of your strike team gets blown over. Now what?

Amber and Tony Taddeo met in 2003, when he went to Mount Laguna Volunteer Fire Department to do his physical agility test to qualify as a volunteer firefighter. He had always wanted to be a firefighter.

Amber was the test proctor. She grew up wanting to be a police officer–“a much more dangerous job” she says–But when her sister, a firefighter, told her this was the best job in the world, she listened.

Initially, there was attraction, but it wasn’t love at first sight. Tony passed his test and was hired by Mount Laguna as a volunteer. Amber, as a senior firefighter, trained him in call responses, driving engines, etc. They ended up working a lot of the same shifts.

As with many good romances, it grew slowly. “It never bothered me that she had more time at Mount Laguna,” Tony says. If anything, her knowledge made her more attractive. “She has this incredible ability to work through any adversity without freaking out.”

But their age difference was an issue for her. “I’d never dated someone younger,” she says. “And we worked together. In some relationships, that can cause issues.”

Then came the Cedar Fire

a-t-Cedar1

As young volunteer firefighters, they found themselves in the largest fire in San Diego’s history. It was dark in the daylight and unpredictable fireballs blew by at 60 mph. They fought for five straight days. Each carried 75 pounds of gear in 95 degree heat. You’d think that might have curbed the romance. Think again. “We were so new that we didn’t have time to be scared until later, when we thought about what we’d just done.” Amber said. They learned to depend on each other in life-threatening crisis and it cemented their bond.

t-a-cedar2“I could not ask for a better partner, both at work and at home,” Amber says. “Family means everything to Tony… and firefighters are like an extended family.”

But their “togetherness” didn’t end at the firehouse. A year later, they entered paramedic school together. Then marriage. Then they were accepted to the Fire Academy at the same time. “We have a system, one preps meals, the other preps study materials,” Tony says. “And we both take care of our beautiful daughter Rebecca, named after Amber’s Mom, who makes their family complete.

How do they make it work?

t-a-rIf anything, working so closely for so long has strengthened their relationship. “It’s weird,” Amber says. “We really don’t fight or get bored with each other. We have so much in common.” She goes on to say that she thinks their system is ideal. “We come home and we can talk about incidents that we’ve worked and the other one understands. That’s a rare gift in a relationship. We see some difficult things.”

Both are now working at San Diego City Fire Rescue Department. Amber is an Assistant Academy Instructor and Tony is an Assistant Academy Coordinator. Both have passed the engineering exams and while Tony is currently an engineer, Amber expects to be promoted this year.

“Our time as volunteers at Mount Laguna was invaluable,” Tony says. “It gave us a foundation and taught us how to be safe, help the community, help each other, and become a valuable addition to a paid fire service.“

“The Mount Laguna Volunteer Fire Department is special,“ Amber says. “You meet amazing people who want you to do well, and train you to do better. People like Frank Ault, Sue Raimond, and Chief Sherman taught us to give back, and now that we have paid career positions in the fire service, we have been able to go back up to the station and help train other volunteers. We feel grateful that we were able to start our careers at Mount Laguna.”