December 1, 2021

Life as a single dad and firefighter

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Nate Krause, right, with his son, Bennett Krause, 9.

Contributing Writer

City of Cortland firefighter Nate Krause is a master juggler.

The 13-year veteran of the department is a single parent caring for his 9-year-old son, Bennett.

The Cortland man, who is divorced, said doing double duty has worked out pretty well for the past nine years.

He credits a good support system in his parents and his ex-wife’s parents, both sets of whom live in Cortland — as well as a good co-parent in his exwife, who lives in Endwell and cares for their son during the week.

“He works very carefully to make sure that he has plenty of time to devote to his family and to his son while also trying to maintain his responsibilities here,” said department Capt. Lee Price, “if time-off slips are any indication.”

But it’s still not easy. He works two 10-hour days and two 14-hour nights at the firehouse with four days off. That’s a lot of time when Dad can’t tuck the boy into bed, and missed holidays and Saturday get-togethers.

During the school year, he has Bennett every weekend and over the summer he has him every week.

Krause tries to save all of his vacation days for summer so he can spend as much time as possible with his son.

It’s rare that Krause has to find daycare for his son when he’s working. Bennett is either in school or with his mother.

But parenting was harder when Bennett was younger because he couldn’t understand where his dad was going or why he had to go to work, Krause said.

“With night shifts, you miss a lot of story times,” he said. It can be tough to explain to Bennett when he has to work a weekend day or a holiday.

But for the most part his son thinks his job is “really cool” and is proud of his dad for being a firefighter.

Krause loves his job.

“Even if I’m not having a good day, I like going to work,” he said. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”

A shift could be very busy with several calls. Or it could be slow with almost no calls coming in.

“And I like the fact that we come to work and we don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Before being a firefighter, he had attended college to be a doctor, but when he was supposed to be taking his medical exams, he instead chose to bicycle across the country. After returning from that trip, he went into plant genetics research. But he found he hated his job and its monotony. He didn’t want to be in a 9 to 5 job that wasn’t really helping anyone.

Nate and Bennett on the Cortland Fire Department balcony.

Krause decided to volunteer for the fire department to be an emergency medical technician. He didn’t realize he could be a paid firefighter. Two years into being a volunteer, he went to his first structure fire and just knew he had to fight fires for his career.

He likes to help people, he said.

“He’s here to do the job well and take care of people, which is a good reason to be here,” Price said.

Once, Krause didn’t want to go home at the end of the day. Now he has a son.

“I want to go home at the end of the day,” Krause said.

His firefighting style has changed, too. He takes fewer risks now, and lets his experience guide him.

He’s more careful, noticing when a situation is going bad during a fire and getting himself — and his team — out of it.

And he can sense when to take care of a problem before it becomes bigger and too dangerous.

However, calls that involve kids, especially those around his son’s age, are more emotional than they used to be.

“Bennett is his world,” fellow Cortland firefighter Matt Edwards said. “It’s always fun to see on Facebook the things he and Bennett are doing or come and talk about the places they’ve been.”

Price said Krause puts family high on the priority list and is very capable, bright, and works very hard to do his job the right way.

Krause is in the middle of relocating so he can be closer to his son and see him more often during the week, but he’s not going to switch departments. “I have not even a thought of leaving here, it’s a great group of guys.”

Kayli Thompson of Groton is a freelance writer and editor.