Just part of the job

Lee's first responders prove service doesn't take a holiday
Nov. 29, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

While Lee County residents gathered with friends and family to eat turkey this Thanksgiving, law enforcement officers and emergency personnel stood watch over the community.

With "The Three Stooges" on the background, members from all three Sanford Fire Department stations gathered at Central station for an early morning breakfast of eggs, bacon, ham, grits and biscuits.

"When we took the job, we knew we were going to work holidays," said Capt. Tommy Holder. "It's just part of being a firefighter. A public servant."

All of the emergency response workers know their shifts in advance, he said, "and you hold your holiday meals on a different day when you can be with your family."

Brandon Chapman, a Sanford firefighter who worked this Thanksgiving, has two children, 19-month-old Gracyn and 9-month-old Calan.

"It's definitely tough," Chapman said. "You want to be there for you child's 'firsts' but when you applied for the position, you knew what you were going to get."

Working 24-hour shifts every third day, firefighters spend a large portion of their time together, he said.

"A third of your life is with these folks, and they are a family," Chapman said. "We cut up and spend time together like a family."

Sanford Fire Capt. Wally Stone has served more than two decades as a firefighter and said holidays tend to be more laid back, but there is usually at least one call for service. 

Down the street at the Sanford Police Department, Capt. Brit Young said those at the station aren't able to eat as a group because there always has to be someone out on the roads.

"Sometimes we cook out before our shift or while we are working, but we have people take turns," Young said. "Some people bring food while we are working."

Typically there are some shoplifting cases at local stores, vehicle accidents involving alcohol and domestic disputes on holidays, he said.

Benson Wise, who's served as a patrolman for nine years, said crime runs 24 hours, seven days a week, and so do they.  

"I am excited to have the opportunity to serve the community, regardless of when it is," he said.

Derek Gaster, an EMT at Central Carolina Advanced Life Support, said he volunteers to work holidays for his coworkers who may have children.

"It really is like a second family," he said. "It's really not so bad."

Angela Chestnutt, a paramedic and shift supervisor at CCALS, has two children and said being away isn't ideal, but she was glad to spend the holiday with coworkers.

"It's family," she said. "It may not be your blood family, but you are still with family."

Looking to serve those who serve the county, Sanford Public Works Street Maintenance Superintendent Magda Holloway held her annual luncheon for first responders for the sixth year in a row. Served in her home on Old Carbonton Road from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Holloway said she makes more than 30 plates for law enforcement officers and emergency personnel to eat in or delivers them if they can't leave.

"I work for Public Works, and we're considered first responders so they have to be out after hours, on holidays and have to be away from their families," she said. "… I hope they are blessed by this because it is a blessing for us."