FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
Not long after Thanksgiving did I finish putting up our Christmas tree and holiday decorations. My daughter enjoys this time of year and especially likes “tradition.” On the other hand, my boys are starting to act like their father, the “Scrooge,” asking, “Why do we have to drag all this stuff out? We’re just going to have to put it all back into the shed in four weeks.”
One year, I remember the Scrooge telling the kids that Santa wasn’t going to be able to make it to our house. Santa was apparently caught breaking and entering, so Christmas was being canceled. Another year, he had the kids convinced that Santa had a heart attack from high cholesterol and lack of exercise. But of course, Santa always made it to our house no matter what.
Public Safety Expectations
Back when the kids were still believers in ‘Ole Saint Nick, I worked the night shift so that I could always be there with them on Christmas morning. Now that they’re older, I’m on the day shift. Consequently, for the last two years, I’ve not only missed Christmas morning, but have also missed going to Nana and Papas for breakfast casserole and seeing all my brothers and their families for the big day. Weeks before Christmas, my daughter whines about how I’m breaking tradition and complains that Christmas isn’t the same if Dad and I aren’t there. But, if you’ve read my last article, Making Time for Family, you’ll remember that she has come to understand how important our jobs are and that someone always has to be on duty.
Nevertheless, being away from family and friends to work on special holidays really stinks. My husband and I knew when we took our jobs in public safety that the “business” doesn’t close—even on holidays. I still get amazed at people who look at the schedule in shock and say, “What do you mean I have to work Christmas Day (or Mother’s Day or my birthday)?!” In truth, someone always has to be there to answer the calls. We all know that crime and emergencies don’t take a holiday.
I’ll never forget several years ago when we had not one, but two officers walk off the job during a hurricane callout after the second day of living at the station. A seasoned officer, who was known for being a bit of a smart aleck, once told a group of complaining rookies, “This is what we do. The public is depending on us to be here to keep order until the power is restored. There’s no one else. This is what you signed up for, now suck it up!” One dispatcher and her officer husband missed a family reunion in another state because of hurricane Charley. Of course she was devastated, but she knew after years in the public safety field that sacrifices had to be made from time to time. Sometimes we hate it and sometimes we love it, but that’s the expectations of the job.
As I sit here writing this, I can’t help but feel sadness. As I stare at the single blue light that burns in my window, I’m reminded of the fallen that are no longer with us. As much as we should be happy and joyous during the holiday season, the news over the last couple of days has me in a somber mood. The holidays tend to bring out the mentally unstable, the depressed and the suicidal, but this year seems to be at an all-time high. I can barely keep track of all the LODDs over the last couple of weeks. I’m sure the state of the economy has affected the rise in suicides and those willing to take someone with them. Our center alone has seen a steady rise in threats, attempts and successful suicides. And as anyone in our line of work knows, the rise in thefts, robberies and domestic violence also come with holiday commercials. The stress of the season seems to be too much for some and oftentimes, their inability to deal with the pressure becomes our problem as well. As we have seen in recent events, the outcome doesn’t always go in our favor. We have lost so many brothers and sisters this year.
To my family in the field, please be safe. Remember your training, and never become complacent. Make sure your equipment is in good working order and stored properly in your vehicle. Remember: You won’t always get a second chance when things go bad. Like my smart friend used to say, “This isn’t 7-11. You can’t call the manager to void the sale and re-ring it if we make a mistake.” That’s the PG-rated version. Remember: Your co-workers inside care about you too. They may not always show it, but they do.
To my family inside, remember your field personnel. Hopefully it will be a slow and uneventful holiday. But, as always, first responders see things that aren’t pleasant. They’ll see children in situations that no child should ever have to be in. People do crazy and stupid things to each other, and we’re the ones they call on to rescue them. Most importantly, be kind to each other. You seasoned folks remember what it’s like for the rookies to give up the holidays for the first time, so help them through it.
There are a lot of things you can do to make working during the holidays more bearable. If you’re going to be working during the holidays, you can decorate and cater so that it doesn’t feel like a regular work day. My center does all kinds of things for the major holidays. We bring covered dishes in for the main dish for the bigger meals. Our director brings in turkey or ham for the shifts that have to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have theme days where we bring in food to match whatever we may be celebrating. Recently, we had Comfort Food Sunday (for no reason!) and had fried chicken, mashed potatoes, homemade mac and cheese, collard greens and peach cobbler for dessert. Admin lets us wear plain clothes on the major holidays. Some shifts have Secret Santas, shift parties or luncheons outside of the center. One shift went a step further and had a themed gift exchange. It was an “As Seen on TV” gift exchange. This year, the gift exchange has a spending limit of $1, which should be fun.
My old department was much smaller. The dispatchers would invite the officers in from off the road to have meals with them. It was a great way to show our appreciation for them. Officers and officer’s spouses would bring us goodies (Most of the time it was food!). Some road supervisors would allow their shifts to split and work half days so they could spend at least half of the day with their family on Christmas. Some of us even went as far as swapping days with each other. Those of us without children would work the day for those that did.
As I said before, working during the holidays stinks, and in a perfect world, we could all spend the day with our families and loved ones. But we all know that will never be a reality. However, there are things we can do to make it through. Remember that it can be difficult on all of us to have to work on Christmas and other major holidays. Be kind to each other and above all else, be safe. I am thankful for each and every one you. You help keep my family safe during the holidays and every day of the year.
Finally, my heart, thoughts and prayers go out to those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice. To the families who are missing their wonderful heroes, please know that you’re also in my thoughts this and every holiday season. I place that blue light in my front window every year to remind my family of those who have fallen while serving us.
I wish you all joy, happiness and a beautiful and prosperous new year. Be safe.