When you think about the holiday season, certain things immediately come to mind such as shopping, Christmas decorations, crisp cold weather, sipping hot chocolate or hot toddies, traveling, warm fires and spending time with family. The holidays bring everyone together and remind us of what’s important in our lives.
Imagine if you had a job where you had to juggle major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. How would you manage? What would you say to your little ones?
Our first responders must be very flexible when it comes to the holiday season and celebrating with loved ones. A non-traditional approach to a traditional time of the year is what they’re used to experiencing. Not being home for the holidays can be tough on anyone, especially the men and women who put their lives on the line for our community.
Mount Pleasant police officers take an oath to serve and protect the community. The police station is a second home for our men and women in blue, and the police department is its own family.
“While working with the MPPD, I have worked more holidays than I could count or remember,” stated Corporal Gerald Jenkins, a 21-year veteran of the Mount Pleasant Police Department. “I’m around my co-workers more than my actual family, so working with them during the holidays is also a blessing, even though I would love to be with my wife and kids. I know it would mean the world to them.”
When you are on patrol, you switch shifts every six weeks. They work 10-hour shifts. Whatever holiday falls on their schedule, they will work a regular 10-hour shift on that day.
“Protecting the town during the holidays is great,” Jenkins added. “The community does not forget their officers or firefighters. They make sure we are fed. This reminds us that we are not forgotten.”
One might be surprised at the relative calm (knock on wood) on major holidays. “There is a little less traffic,” said MPPD Detective St. Claire Clinkscales. “At least parts of it. People are spending time with their family. You will always have collisions, but during Christmas and New Year’s we are out, and alcohol-related crimes are high.”
Similar to the police department, the fire department must work during the holiday season as well. Charleston Fire Department Station 18 on Daniel Island provides service both on Daniel Island and in Mount Pleasant, along with other surrounding areas if needed. A third of a firefighter’s life is spent at the firehouse. A typical shift is 24 hours on and 48 hours off. There are two different types of shifts: A shift (mornings) or B shift (nights). The group (A or B) determines which holidays you will work. The A or B shifts never change unless you request to swap.
“The activities and calls we receive for emergencies really depend on the holiday itself,” said Station 18 Captain Samuel Farris. “We get more calls during Thanksgiving because of deep-frying turkeys and house calls. Christmas is quiet for us, maybe not EMTs and New Year’s…it depends. Last Christmas could have been the busiest day of the year because of the deep freeze.”
The fire department on Daniel Island alone received more than 11 calls that frigid Christmas Day. When they are not answering a call, the firehouse does allow for their actual families to visit. They enjoy Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas celebrations, sharing food and fellowship with their most treasured gifts: family.
“We make the best of it,” said firefighter Chad Murdock. “When it comes to holidays, when we took this job, we knew we would work the holidays. We try to make it so our families don’t miss out. The firehouses do put on dinners for us during that time.”
There are a variety of incidents to which the fire department responds. From a medical issue or mental health call to car accidents, they deal with much more than just fires. If the police or EMS can’t handle it, it will fall on the fire department. They are ready and willing when the call comes in.
EMTs are right behind the police and fire department. They are out there making sure the community is safe as well. EMTs are also on an A B C system like the fire department, the only difference is that EMTs receive their schedule every six months.
“I feel like we all have a different view and experience when it comes to the holidays,” said EMT Kelsey Slaton. “My brother, who is a police officer, is slow during the holidays. EMS is hit or miss. Some days we are call after call after call. The day after Thanksgiving, we are busy. High blood sugar or diabetes.”
In their logistics the office does provide food and treats. City officials come by during the holidays to say thanks and give their appreciation.
“I love helping people,” Slaton reflected. “For a long time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life until I went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. I got to work in the medical tent, and I remind you, I didn’t have any medical knowledge at that time. I saw the medical needs and that pushed me to become an EMT.”
As a mother with two kids though, it’s tough for her to hear ‘Mom, you are always gone. Mom, you missed Christmas.’ Slaton is thankful for her family and husband. Doing things together is important. Slaton gets creative on the days that she does miss due to work.
“We make other arrangements or see what’s in the community,” Slaton said. “I host the neighborhood Halloween party with all the kids because I worked on Halloween.”
First responders’ lives are different and unique from other members in the community. Their colleagues and partners are their second family. Families of these heroes are used to celebrating holidays on non-traditional days, so they must instead create new traditions and experiences.
Community members have acknowledged that this is a difficult time and have shown their support, love and thanks to first responders.
By Maurice J. Frazier