Working for the holidays
The holiday season is often the appointed family time on the calendar. Whether lighting a Christmas tree or a menorah, feasting in November or in December, thoughts of celebrating with relatives and friends are never far.
But, people in need, those suffering with sickness, and house fires don’t take a vacation during Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s Eve, and neither do those who answer calls for help. So what’s it like to work as a first responder during the major winter holidays?
“Crime-wise, it’s very minimal during Christmastime,” said Sergeant Brian Riggs, a Charleston Police Department officer with Daniel Island-based Team 5. “Everybody’s pretty pleasant, with that time of year, being jolly. I don’t mind. I do miss spending time with my family, but I do enjoy working on Christmas because everybody’s usually in a good mood.”
“Most people are at the house or they’ve got guests coming over, so they’re busy,” he added. “You might get an accident. You might get a stalled vehicle. Usually, it’s pretty good, especially here.”
Charleston Fire Department Captain Matt Thomson and Berkeley County Emergency Medical Services Chief Daniel Barb both agreed.
“Christmas, Hanukkah are not usually too bad, as long as folks are being safe,” said Thomson.
He concluded that the usual calls the fire department gets around the major winter holidays are “occasionally a turkey fryer gets away from them [residents], car accidents on New Years’ Eve.”
While the activity sounds like it gets quieter on certain holidays, first responders are often required to be away from their families.
“In public safety, police, fire, EMS, we always expect to work nights, weekends, holidays, birthdays, and special events,” said Barb. “That’s part of the understanding. That’s what we automatically expect.”
“Nobody likes to be at work over the holidays, but we make the most of it,” added Thomson. “We usually cook a big meal, family will come drop in.”
The Fire Department Captain added that Daniel Island residents have been very gracious, bringing baked goods to the fire station year round, but especially during the holiday season.
Riggs stated that he knew that he was giving up certain days when he became a police officer, and his family has always been very understanding about it. Plus, the opportunity to help others has been a gift in itself.
“You still get the opportunity to spend some time, but it’s not like somebody that has Christmas vacation. They take that whole time off and that’s wonderful. I enjoy coming out here and making sure that, during the Christmas time, people who are off feel safe and are safe. If they need us, I’m there for them,” he said.
Chief Barb commented that EMS tries to be conscious of their latest recruits around the holidays season.
“A lot of the newer employees, the younger ones, they don’t find it hard to adapt to, but it’s the first time ever that they’ve had to work a job over the holidays, so we make sure that our supervisors are aware of that and keep in touch with them,” he said.
While being away from loved ones over a holiday season that glorifies family time can be difficult, Captain Thomson summed up the responses given by everyone interviewed.
“We understand we’re here for a reason,” he said. And knowing that they are keeping residents safe “makes it a little easier to be at work on the holidays.”