Since then, I try to remember to make sure wedding rings can be seen. I realize that when I ask, "Are you married?" I risk sounding like I'm flirting. Not really. I'm just looking for the ring.
You see, it turns out some departments don't allow their firefighters to wear rings. Some firefighters voluntarily put theirs on a chain and wear it around their necks and under their clothes. Some put theirs in their pockets, lockers or just leave them at home.
Some go home after their shift without a ring on their finger. Imagine the kitchen drama.
So, while on a shoot in Dallas, I wanted to make sure Don Jackson showed his wedding ring. During the day he spoke about his wife with real affection. I wanted to make certain she would be able to see his golden commitment to their love and bond.
"I want to see your wedding ring," I explained as I got into position with the camera and took meter readings.
He put his right hand up in the air, fingers spread.
"No," I said laughing, "your wedding ring." Undeterred, Don put his right hand up again. This time the smile on his face got a little broader.
Something was up. I got ready for the joke. They always come fast and loose. I'm used to it.
Instead, Don lowered his right hand and raised his left to show me a missing finger -- his ring finger. He explained that during a fire his ring got caught on his gear. In the rapid action of a fire scene, his ring -- along with his finger -- was ripped off. Don now wears his wedding ring on his right hand.
I put the photo in my portfolio to share with the guys. It's typical for someone looking at the photo to call the other guys over to look at it. "I need my wife to see this," one firefighter declared. "She has trouble believing me when I come home without my ring on."
Really? How many women have met a married man in a club, at a party or a restaurant who isn't wearing his wedding ring? What's the first thing most single women look for when they meet an interesting new man?
So when a husband - any husband - goes home without his wedding ring on, can you blame his wife for being suspicious? And when the explanation is, "I took it off to be safer at work," would you buy that one?
Well, ladies, here's the proof.
When Don and I finished the shoot, other members of Engine 41 asked for the same photo in a show of support and humor. They grabbed the axe, took a seat on the stool, and hid their ring fingers, too.
The Brotherhood takes many forms.