Recent 5.11 Tactical boot winners Charles and Heather have a story unlike anyone else. The realm of EMS can be harsh in dealing with the unforeseen circumstances and brutal realities of saving lives. Charles and Heather’s strong bond with each other help to advocate for mental health awareness in the field while having a love story to tell all.
Determining boundaries of personal and professional lives can be difficult in the public safety sector. Charles and Heather both teach high school students close by in Norfolk, Virginia and work actively as EMS and EMT professionals in their field. As it seems true, opposites attract, even if one person is sure to not date someone in the same field. Heather says, “I adamantly did not want to date in rescue and fire. I wanted to keep my circle small because rescue is rescue and work is work.” Fortunately for the two, there was an inevitable gravitation that brought them together.
Charles and Heather met through their field experiences. Charles was set in popping the question but deciding the right time to do it while working around the rigorous life of EMS presented problems. With the help of his colleagues in the field like Kari Dickerson, Chris and Sarah Carris, the perfect pair were soon to be joined together.
One of his colleagues, former president of NAEMSE Chris Nolette, helped him ask the four-worded question while instructional training was being held for EMS. At the time, Charles gave Heather a book, while at her birthday dinner with her parents with the inside cover inscribed by President Nolette asking, “Will you marry Charles?”
It was a love story meant to be, grounded in the roots of EMS and paramedicine. As an added bonus, their dear friend, Daniel Sundahl, renowned photographer, firefighter and paramedic, was coming to Virginia Beach for an event and ended up taking their engagement photos.
Sundahl interprets the personal struggle and issues in the public safety realm through his captivating photography. Charles says, “Daniel advocates for our profession, and it’s important to understand how things accumulate negatively in your mind. You’re in the field and bad calls have to be made, and they screw with you. Looking at his photos helps to see something different in terms of hope, and his photos explain what everyone has struggled with while articulating what we’re feeling in a relatable sense.”
As a dear, long-time friend, Sundahl talked to Charles in a time of desperate need when he was dealing with severe PSTD from working in the EMS field. In surviving his struggle and overcoming with internal issues, Charles soon met Heather in better days ahead. Sundahl was able to travel to the couple to celebrate the beautiful life that they have made for each other and offered his services through an exclusive photo shoot. Charles continues to say about his wife,
“It takes an incredible, special someone and patience; a person to understand what maybe we don’t understand what is going on within ourselves. There is hope and help, and most importantly there is an opportunity to rebuild stronger. Resiliency is something we talk about, but not act on it as an industry and having a partner in a relationship or working hand-in-hand with someone who knows you so well professionally prevents suicide. Two people a day result in suicide from professions that are designed to help people, and it’s a travesty. We’re a westernized country, the very best, yet were killing our own people that don’t want to admit that we don’t have internal struggles of our own.”
Charles and Heather’s love story is unlike most couples’ journey and highlighting the best days as well as the dark, hidden struggles is what makes their bond even stronger. Advocating for mental health awareness in their field and shining a light on relatable issues will give someone hope to seek the help they need. Public safety professionals must rely on each other and talk openly about the issues they face in order to live better days ahead. The photo captures the joyful memory of 4 and a half years ago and showcases the peace they’ve been searching for within each other.