Victoria couples find love in uniform

Greater Victoria military, fire department couples navigate workplace relationships

Lt. (N) Isabelle Filion and her husband LCdr Bruno Farrugia  stand on the bridge of his ship HMCS Protecteur docked at CFB Esquimalt.

Lt. (N) Isabelle Filion and her husband LCdr Bruno Farrugia stand on the bridge of his ship HMCS Protecteur docked at CFB Esquimalt.

For Kevin de Bruin and Tanya Judge, Valentine’s Day will be just another day.

“Why should it be one day a year, when it should be any time you feel like it,” de Bruin said.

They are the lone uniformed couple at the Victoria Fire Department.

But given the potential pitfalls of dating someone from work – such as post-break-up awkwardness at the workplace – they didn’t enter their relationship a year-and-a-half ago lightly.

“We considered everything and were ready for whatever positives and/or negatives could possibly come from it,” said Judge, who has been an emergency fire dispatcher at the Yates Street fire station for two-and-a-half years. de Bruin has been a Victoria firefighter for 13 years.

Shift work can presents a challenge. They each work two 10-hour days and two 14-hour nights in a row.

de Bruin recently changed to a different shift, and they no longer share the same days off.

“We go out of our way to see each other, whether it’s after she gets off from the day shift. I might make dinner for her, or vice-versa,” said de Bruin, who lives in Brentwood Bay. Judge lives in Saanich.

There are also advantages to dating a colleague.

They each say they have a better appreciation for the other’s workday, particularly if one has experienced a difficult shift. de Bruin worked as both a dispatcher and a fire fighter when he first started at the department, giving him insight into Judge’s job.

“There’s some tough calls out there and we’re able to support each other empathetically,” Judge said.

There are at least 100 civilian defence and military couples at CFB Esquimalt.

Since meeting in 2002 while attending Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., navy Lt. Isabelle Filion and Lt.-Cmdr. Bruno Farrugia have learned to balance their military careers and their personal life.

Farrugia has also been away a lot for work over the past three years.

He is currently the executive officer of supply ship HMCS Protecteur, while Filion works on dry land as a marine systems engineer at the Fleet Maintenance Facility.

The View Royal couple regularly go on dates or enjoy a bike ride and breakfast on a Sunday morning, in between raising a baby and a toddler.

“We’ll use the time that we’ve got,” Farrugia said.

Like every couple “… we have our ups and downs, but we navigate through it,” Filion said smiling.

Despite the tumult that comes with military moves – they’re likely relocating to Ottawa this summer – they see it as a relationship-building exercise.

“It always keeps things exciting,” Farrugia said.

“We love having projects and dreaming,” Filion added.

For Cmdr. Todd Bonnar, and his wife Petty Officer 2nd Class Erin Bonnar, their relationship has also been intertwined with military life from the start.

The Langford couple met in 1996 through mutual military friends. They became engaged on the deck of a CFB Esquimalt warship and had a military wedding in 2000.

Over the years, they have become adept at keeping their romance alive amidst raising two young daughters, moving six times since 1998 and being apart for long and short deployments.

Today, Todd is commanding officer of Protecteur while Erin is fleet logistics budget manager.

They agree that having a life partner who also wears a military uniform helps foster understanding about the demands of the job.

“I don’t think a civilian couple would handle, ‘Hey, I’m posted to Afghanistan for a year (with two weeks’ notice),’ very well,” said Todd, who knows military couples that have been through that experience.

“So it’s all about knowing that things change quickly in the military.”

Time apart, though sometimes stressful, can even help the relationship.

“That’s what keeps it alive,” Erin quipped.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Todd added with a smile. “You’re more appreciative when you come back.”


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