First, there were the weddings.
So many of them, in the span of just a couple of years, that it was a running joke among some members of the Salisbury Fire Department that they should place bets on how many times they’d serve as groomsmen in a 12-month period.
And after so many weddings? Well, you know what happens next: Babies. Lots of them.
Seven wives of the department’s 85 firefighters are currently pregnant. Two babies have already been born since last fall, bringing the total number of babies that will be born in a one-year period to nine.
Six of the seven current dads-to-be serve on the same shift, which means they spend 24 hours on duty together, then take the next 48 hours off. And six of the seven women are first-time moms.
Former Salisbury firefighter Brianna Mitschele, who’s now a professional photographer, blogged and Instagrammed about the baby boom recently and spent the days since fielding calls from news outlets as big as Good Morning America, charmed by the story of how such a baby surge happened in such a small town.
Over the holidays, Mitschele had planned a photo shoot for two fire department wives who are due this spring. By the time they had it scheduled, three more were pregnant. And just a few weeks ago, another two couples had happy news.
“They just kept popping up on Facebook, and we were like, ‘holey moley,’” Mitschele said.
Of course, there are plenty of jokes and light-hearted ribbing that goes along with so many babies springing from one organization.
“We’ve warned the Hazmat team that they’re going to have to start testing the water,” laughed fire chief Robert Parnell.
There will be five baby girls and two boys, so some quip that the boys will have “the pick of the litter.”
But scratch beneath the surface of the oddity of so many couples pregnant all at once, and there’s a tender underside.
It wasn’t easy for all of the seven women to get pregnant. And pregnancy can be scary, which means having a support network — of both wives and husbands — has been a huge blessing, the couples say.
“Even though we’re all pregnant at the same time, we all have a different story,” said Chelsea Cline. “Some people were planning it, and some people weren’t. Some people had to go through treatments to get pregnant. For us, it just took time.”
Cline and her husband, Jeremy, suffered a miscarriage more than a year ago (they also have a 7-year-old son, Jackson), and once the couple felt OK about opening up about about the loss, they were consoled by others in the department who’d experienced it, too.
“I think the brotherhood within the department is such that you do share things like that — things that are difficult,” Chelsea Cline said. “In the fire service, (firefighters) see a lot of things that most people don’t see.”
Amber Overcash, who has a baby boy due Aug. 1, says she and her husband laughed at breakfast one morning about the absurdity of so many department wives getting pregnant all at once.
“And a couple of months later, we’re like, ‘We’re in the same boat!’”
Three of the department’s expectant dads were groomsmen in the couple’s wedding, and going through the pregnancy journey together has only brought them closer, she says. “It’s really nice to know that our kids will all have a big group of friends to play with.”
Parnell, the fire chief and a grandfather of two, is delighted by the thought of a new crop of babies who’ll grow up playing together at department potlucks and visiting their firefighter dads and moms at the station.
“If we have to do a fire department childcare, we will,” he said.
This article originally appeared in The Charlotte Observer.