Being a First Responder often Means Having to Be at Work during the Holidays

Serving as a police officer, firefighter or medical technician means working at a place that never closes. And if you’re a first responder, you’ve very likely had to spend a few holidays on the clock.

But you don’t always have to be away from your family. Some first responders say their families can come and hang out at their workplaces for a little while on the holidays. Others try to do a little celebrating with their kids before leaving for the day. And others see their co-workers as a family of sorts.

The holidays are also a time for members of the community to express their gratitude, and first responders report getting food and many thanks while they’re out and about. And the first responders themselves enjoy making the holidays a little better for those in tough situations.

Here are the stories of how three first responders spend their holidays on the job.

Yakima Fox, firefighter, Greensboro Fire Department

What do you enjoy most about this line of work?

I like being able to be out in the community, helping people. When we come, that may be the worst day of a person’s life. So just being able to go and help them out and make their situation a little better, I enjoy that part. If it’s a fire, you can save at least some of their property, at least save their family pictures.

Do you do anything special when you have to work on the holidays?

On Thanksgiving, we’ll typically do the traditional Thanksgiving meals. We might have a fried turkey. Sometimes we’ll invite our families up. Sometimes, it’s just us as a crew. It just depends what everybody’s family has going on. At the station also, that’s like a family, so we’re still spending the holiday with people that we care about.

How do you accommodate your loved ones when you have to work on a holiday?

On Christmas day, my son will get up early and open up gifts. And then I’ll drop him off at my mom’s house, or his dad will come pick him up.

There have also been times when I’ll bring maybe three gifts to the station, and I’ll have somebody bring him up to the station, and he’ll open those gifts, and then we’ll have dinner there.

What are some memorable encounters you’ve had out in the community while working during the holidays?

People will bring us a lot of food at the station. The community really shows a lot of love during the holidays. They’ll bring cakes, cookies. It’s a good feeling knowing that the community accepts us and loves us and appreciates us.

What do you find rewarding about working during the holidays?

Just being able to help someone else. If you go perform CPR on someone and save the person, well that person gets to spend another holiday with their family. People are really grateful.

Fleming Brewer, officer, Greensboro Police Department

What do you enjoy most about being in this line of work?

Knowing that there are a lot of people out here who really appreciate the work that we do. And you meet those people, and they come up and tell you, “Thank you.” That’s probably the biggest factor in helping to keep you engaged and keep you focused.

Do you do anything special when you have to work on the holidays?

In general, for the most part, it’s hard to plan anything. But you have people in the community, churches. There’s a church in Greensboro, Immanuel Baptist, that always feeds first responders during the holidays, and that’s just awesome. When I’ve had to work on Thanksgiving over the years, I always made sure to go over there and show them just how much I appreciated them looking after us during the holidays.

How do you accommodate your loved ones when you have to work on a holiday?

In the past, if I had to work on Christmas, for example, it would be later in the afternoon and we had a chance to open up presents with the kids. And with our supervisors we also try to take care of each other, so we have some time to be with our families.

What are some memorable encounters you’ve had out in the community while working during the holidays?

There used to be an older gentleman at Immanuel Baptist in a wheelchair. He always came out and served us and talked to every police officer. And it was nice to have someone to sit down with and just talk about life in general, not necessarily just police work. That could be very uplifting.

What do you find most rewarding about working during the holidays?

During the daytime on Thanksgiving or Christmas, things are much quieter than normal. There’s a calm peace about the city. Most of the time, during the course of the day, you hear a lot of chatter on the radio. But on those days, it’s just quiet.

Sometimes you might see someone on the side of the highway, car broken down, and they’re trying to get to grandma’s house. And to be able to help them get to their family safely, that’s most rewarding.

Dr. Rob Lockwood, emergency room physician, Moses Cone Hospital

What do you enjoy most about this line of work?

The fact that every situation is unique, and the sense of fulfillment you get with each patient when you can do something and make a difference right there, right at that moment.

Do you do anything special when you have to work on the holidays?

Well, it’s impossible to get all the crew together for even 15 minutes. One thing, Cone is very supportive and will do a holiday meal. We can’t get away from the ER, so they’ll bring it to us. And typically each department will have a potluck area where you can go if you can find 5 or 10 minutes.

How do you accommodate your loved ones when you have to work on a holiday?

My colleagues in the emergency medicine group are very close and understand the challenges of working holidays, and so we’ll rotate holidays. My wife and I have twin 10-year-old daughters, so we try to celebrate the day before or the day after. You couldn’t be in this line of work if you didn’t have an understanding family. We’re in it together.

What kind of experiences have you had while working during the holidays?

Two things stand out. One is that the patients who come in sick on a holiday are very sick. The second is that they are very appreciative of what we do for them. You get a stronger sense of that. Often they say, “Thank you for being here on a holiday,” which is cool.

What do you find rewarding about working during the holidays?

Again, when people come in on a holiday, they are very sick, and we are the only place they can go to for care. And then I get to work with people who also aren’t with their families, so it’s a shared sense of purpose, which is a cool thing.