SIDNEY — Holidays usually means time for family and a day off, but when you are a first responder, Thanksgiving — or any holiday — is just like any other day.
While many people will be gathering around the diner table and football game with family, Sidney Police and members of the Sidney Fire Department will be on the job with their “second family,” Thursday.
Assistant Fire Chief Chad Hollinger said although the day will be slightly more relaxed, Crew A, the crew he is responsible for, will be ready to respond to calls on Thanksgiving.
“It’s just how it is (in this line of work),” Hollinger said. “My first family (wife and children), will go be with the in-laws and my family later, and I’ll just miss (the gathering).”
Firefighters whose rotation calls for them to work Thursday will follow a “holiday routine,” Hollinger said. This means their 24-hour shift, starting at 7 a.m., will be composed of only essential tasks, such as maintenance on equipment and apparatus, ensuring their gear is ready to go and some light cleaning of the station. Otherwise, after those duties are completed, they plan to watch football and have a family-style dinner around noon.
The guys all chip-in and bring various items to cook. Hollinger said the best cook of the crew, Firefighter Mark Pleiman, is creating the menu and will delegate jobs for crew members to help prep or cook side dishes.
“(Working on) Thanksgiving has a different feel. Things stick out more on holidays for us,” Hollinger said about past calls on a holiday.
One incident he said he will never forget was responding to a medical call at a nursing home for an elderly person who had just died after returning from spending the entire holiday out with family. Another year he recalled responding to a terrible multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 75.
Sidney Police Chief Will Balling said they try to be fair about rotating officers who are off on the holidays. At the police department, it is not all about seniority. Balling said they consider who had past holidays off. Officers who are off on Thanksgiving typically work Christmas Eve and Christmas day, or if they have Christmas morning off, they will work on Christmas Eve. Officers on some shifts who live in Sidney go home, with their radios, for a 30-minute break to eat with family, knowing they are on call.
Balling said, “We understand that family is very important. The police department is a family in and of itself. So, while we are away from our biological family, we still have members that we consider family members (on the job), and we try to make it special for them.”
Balling also recalled the first Thanksgiving with his wife, early in his career. He said he was two hours late to dinner at his in-laws’s home, and they waited for his arrival.
“(My wife) was very gracious and actually made it more special because she was so understanding. That was one of my best Thanksgivings,” Balling said.
Police Sgt. Josh Divens, who is the second shift supervisor, said being busy during the holidays vary for the police.
“I find myself giving out more warnings (than tickets),” Divens admitted with a smile.
However, there is an increase of alcohol related incidents, including OVIs and also domestic violence or other mental health issues, Divens and Officer Nick Zimmer added.
Divens and Zimmer will be working second shift this Thanksgiving. They said each shift does their own thing, but their shift, and spouses, plan to eat at a restaurant together. They also typically have food spread out all through out the holiday season. Divens said also at some point during the season, he and his co-sergeant, will provide a carry-out meal on a day they know all officers on their shift will be working.
“We have to watch not to gain weight,” Divens said with a laugh. “A lot of folks from the community bring in dishes. There is usually an entire counter back there covered with food and sweets, and things like that.”
The officers admit that their families know they have to work on the holidays and plan accordingly.
“Our families have learned to cope with us. Our kids know sometimes Dad is not going to be here, Mom’s not going to be there and in-laws (know) its just a given,” Divens said. “There have been times when maybe I don’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving, so maybe we do it on the following day. We just kind of flex it. It helps to have the support of family.”
“My in-laws like to schedule things around (my schedule); they will schedule (the meal) at noon,” Zimmer said. “But my family is so large that it would be hard to reschedule; it’s been the same time my entire life. But that’s why I would rather work Christmas, for example, rather than Christmas Eve because my family is all (together) Christmas Eve night.”
First responders from both departments agree that holidays can be low-key and a bit friendlier, but certainly hope they are uneventful.
“As long as the citizens have a safe and happy holiday, we will too,” Hollinger said. “We are one of those rare professions that if we’re not busy, that’s a good thing.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.