By Jordan Jennings
LANSING TOWNSHIP – Capt. Todd Hendy and Lt. Erika Hendy have served as firefighters and paramedics at Lansing Township Fire Station 52 for nearly 20 years—which is also as long as they’ve been married.
After the couple met in high school, Todd began pursuing his lifelong goal to be a firefighter. Erika originally planned to go to nursing school, but began doing medical work with the fire station. When the station later required fire certification, it led her to eventually try fire academy. Involvement became “infectious,” said Erika.
Married in December 1994, the couple has worked the same shift at different stations (Station 51 and Station 52) in Lansing Township in the past. Now, their six- and eight-year-old daughters take precedence.
Todd and Erika alternate 24-hour shifts at Station 52 so that one of the two parents is always home. While not an official rule, Erika said their fire chief follows the same principle the military does: “Don’t send brothers to the same war.”
For the sake of their daughters, the couple tries to avoid needing to address the same initial hazard or risk that could cause one of them to lose their life. As a small department, though, it doesn’t always work that way. At any given time, either spouse could be exposed to hazardous materials, dangerous situations or, as Todd is also the arson investigator, even becoming a target himself. As Erika said, “People don’t usually call us for good things.”
“There’s times where I go home a different way every night or every day,” said Todd, who said he has been followed in the past after an arson incident.
“There are those times when I fear for my kids and my wife—and for myself for that matter, too,” he said.
Both individuals are serious about educating themselves to make wise decisions and appropriate risk assessment.
“They are very, very aware of… problems that could occur,” said Lansing Township Fire Chief Richard Curry, “You couldn’t ask for any better employees.”
While risks are prevalent outside their home, a different kind of risk lies within it.
“Those ears are always listening at home,” said Erika, speaking of their two daughters. While being in the same field makes communication easier, she is concerned about how much the girls overhear or understand.
Because both parents are deeply engrossed in their field, they are very conscious of putting on a filter when at home.
“I don’t necessarily have to give a lot of background for him to understand what I’m saying… [but] there’s a certain innocence to children and I don’t necessarily want to ruin that.”
Knowing that the girls are observing them has its benefits, though. Erika believes it’s a positive thing for them to see Mom in a profession that’s not typically female-oriented. Having that may help them know “they can do whatever it is they choose to do,” she said.
While they value being home with their daughters every other day, not getting to be together every night takes its toll, too, said Todd.
Five days is the longest period in which the couple has had to “pass like ships in the night,” as Erika calls it. With no outside time to spend together during these phases, they take advantage of getting to report off to one another as one parent starts work and the other heads home.
“We usually have our little morning report of… ‘OK, so did the kids sleep last night? Was one of them up?’ or ‘Kids’ clothes are picked out, this is what they want for breakfast’” Erika said.
Fire Chief Richard Curry has known the couple since they were dating. Curry has worked with them on many fire and medical calls in which both spouses had to work on an emergency scene.
“There may be different dynamics within other departments with married couples, but in this particular case… Both are extremely professional on the job and personally I’ve never witnessed any type of interaction between even the two that was anything other that professional,” said Curry.
Without reading their last name on their nameplates, “If a new person came on and we kept it a secret, they would never know,” said Todd.
“I think that’s best for us…[and] for people that work around us,” agreed Erika.