Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to correct the spelling of Kole McCaughey’s and Justin Horton’s names.
Other than the carols ringing from a portable speaker nestled safely on the treadmill, Nikiski Fire Station 1 was quiet on Christmas Day.
“It’s just the two of us and the guys up at (Nikiski Fire) Station 2,” said Kole McCaughey, the engineer on duty. “Usually, it’s pretty quiet. We do chores, that sort of thing.”
Chores and, of course, make a Christmas ham. McCaughey and Jay Kane, who manned the station together on the holiday, were planning to roast a ham. They’d be ready to go at a moment’s notice if a call came in, but until then, it was regular station duty.
Working on Christmas Day is fairly common in the U.S. About one-third of Americans expected to work on Christmas, Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day, according to the third-quarter 2015 Allstate/Heartland Monitor poll. That is the norm for hospital staff, emergency responders and corrections officers, among other professions.
But most find a way to celebrate the holiday anyway. Kane said he took his holiday early to visit family in Oregon, and McCaughey said he spent a few hours with his family early Christmas morning before reporting for duty at 8 a.m.
“We got up at 6 (a.m.), snuck in a few hours before I had to be here,” McCaughey said.
Others celebrated a few days early or late. Kenai Fire Department firefighter Mark Anderson said his family celebrated a few days before, as he knew he would be on duty on Christmas Day. At the station, he was minding a turkey cooking in the oven for the firefighters’ own Christmas dinner Friday.
It was a quiet day for Kenai as well as Nikiski. The four firefighters on duty in Kenai had only had one callout all day by mid-afternoon, and it was cancelled as they made their way to the scene. That left the firefighters at the station most of the day, ready to go but waiting — thankfully, they said.
“Like we say, (callouts are) something for us, but somebody else is having a terrible day,” said firefighter Abe Porter.
Kenai’s Christmas dinner is a fairly small affair compared to the fete at Central Emergency Services, where the staff and volunteers and their families gathered at the Soldotna station for a joint Christmas dinner. All the shifts have their own celebration on the days around Christmas.
“If there’s a callout, we would respond from here,” said Shawn Killian, who was captain on duty on Christmas Day. “But it’s been pretty quiet. We’ve had one callout today, and it was for a dog somebody thought they spotted in the river.”
Not that the firefighters would dread a call. Firefighter Justin Horton with the Kenai Fire Department, who said this was his first Christmas Day on duty, said sometimes the time just drags on after the chores are finished, the reports are checked and the rigs are inspected.
“That’s when you kind of think, ‘Man, I wish I could just press a fast-forward button and make the time go faster,’” Horton said jokingly.
Sometimes the calls are not all urgent crises, either. Kane and McCaughey said they have helped people shovel their snow before and responded to false alarms. But it is an opportunity to see what the community needs. In the past, they have responded to someone on duty that they will then help later. McCaughey said he has gotten off duty and helped people get firewood from the local church or gone to cut it himself if they need it.
“This community is amazing,” McCaughey said. “We really enjoy the chance to help out.”