Silent Night, Except for Those on Duty
Posted on Friday, January 4th, 2013
Emergency Services Keep Holiday Watch: Wendy Vann, Ericka Wolfenbarger, and Rosemary Magner dispatched law enforcement, fire, and ambulance responders on Christmas Eve from the E911 Center in Marietta.
For local police and nurses, being on duty on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day means time spent with family – just not their own families.
Colleagues are close. With 48-hour shifts, firefighter/EMT Taylor Westbrook reminded, “We spend one-third of our lives together.”
A late night tour of emergency service sites around Love County turned up Santa sightings by the Marietta Police, holiday decorations at the hospital and the E911 center, and ambulance paramedics planning some serious cooking.
Members of the public, typically recent patients, had dropped by various stations in recent days with tins of snack foods and desserts, or sent Christmas cards.
They remember an exquisite quality emergency personnel bring to work every day of the year – the constant readiness to run to danger or medical crisis in service to the people of Love County.
At Love County EMS/Fire Brigade station #2 at WinStar Casino, Ben Grace, Chance Weger, Taylor Westbrook, Shelton Bray, Nicholas Hayes, and Richard Brock stood duty along with their officer, Captain Obie Heath.
The all-male crew of mostly 20 year-olds is professionally trained to suppress fires and render paramedic-level life support.
Three of them have children at home, all under the age of 13. “Santa came early to our house,” Brock said.
Most of their medical emergencies arise at WinStar Casino and the surrounding hotels, visited by tens of thousands of patrons in a typical week, and where, judging by the crowded parking lot, Christmas Eve is shaping up as no slouch business day.
Occasionally, someone they transported stops by the station to tell the paramedics how their hospital stay went and let them know they’re okay.
“Its gratifying, because most of the time we wonder but never learn what became of patients,” Westbrook said.
That afternoon, Heath said, a Texas man staying at the RV park across the street walked into the station to wish the crew happy holidays and thank them for their service.
Mid-afternoon, they were cooking their holiday dinner of turkey, ham and all the trimmings when back-to-back ambulance calls emptied the station.
A few hours later, the mashed potatoes were a little dry, Bray said, but the meal together was “very filling.”
At EMS station #1 at Mercy Health/Love County Hospital, Clinic and EMS, the duty paramedics Teresa Tow and James Hicks were seated in the living room watching TV.
At 9:45 the emergency tone sounded in a ceiling intercom and the voice of the E911 dispatcher could be heard, stating the address of a Marietta residence where an elderly man was having medical problems.
The paramedics calmly donned their uniform jackets, stepped through the bay door into a waiting ambulance, and sped away.
But John Gilliam remained behind. An early arrival for work, he was taking an extra shift so a coworker with young children could enjoy Christmas morning at home.
The senior paramedic (20 years in April with Love County EMS), Gilliam shared some holiday happenings old and new.
All Christmases at work, he said, are like any other workday – except the first Christmas on duty.
“It stinks,” he said, quickly adding, “The best thing about the hospital and EMS is that we’re so much of a family. Yes, we’re away from our children, but we’re spending Christmas with our extended family.”
For a few years, EMS crews exchanged gifts, then decided to join the angel tree project instead, drawing names from the community Christmas tree and buying toys for children.
Since the grocery store would be closed the next day, Gilliam said, he, Tow, and Hicks had brought from home the makings of Christmas dinner: smoked ribs, sweet potato dumplings, shrimp, and plenty of side dishes.
“We’re good cooks, and we’ll have enough to send plates over to the nurses and P.A. on duty,” Gilliam said.
At the E911 center, which opened in January, emergency dispatchers Rosemary Magner, Wendy Vann, and Ericka Wolfenbarger were sharing their first Christmas on duty.
“It’s a little hard,” said Vann, whose four children range in age from 22 to 12. “We have our family traditions, but everyone is adjusting to my schedule.”
The center was festively decorated and a dozen Christmas cards were displayed on the door. The Eastman Fire Department had sent a sandwich platter.
A few days earlier, the entire E911 department had sat down to a potluck Christmas dinner and exchanged stocking stuffer gifts. They were joined by City Hall workers and emergency manager Tracey Smithwick.
Becky Watkins, E911 manager, recounted the typical holiday calls from her 18 years as an emergency dispatcher: A few illnesses, some accidental falls, and numerous disturbances tied to overconsumption of alcohol at family gatherings.
Marietta Police officers Billy Bond and Aaron Johnson, both fathers with young children at home, had been patrolling the quiet streets, their thoughts more on the challenges ahead on the following Monday night, New Year’s Eve.
Marietta Police Chief Dustin Scott emailed that his favorite patrol memories were “catching fathers and grandfathers standing outside of residences, dressed as Santa, waiting to surprise children inside.”
He added, “We have received many snacks and desserts this year from businesses and citizens, as well as cards from several citizens offering thanks for our service. It is always great to be remembered in that way.”
At Mercy Health/Love County hospital, the lights in the patient wing were dimmed.
At the nurses’ station, Myrna Gaither, R.N., and Denise Trivitt, LPN, kept watch, their surroundings brightened by matching poinsettia plants on the countertop and a Christmas wreath on the wall.
Two of four sleeping patients were well enough, Trivitt said, to leave the hospital for a few hours at home with their families.
“The others we’ve already told we’ll get to spend our Christmas together,” Gaither said.
All were expected to recover, which was welcome news, because deaths on the holiday are particularly hard for family members.
“We’ve lost loved ones, too, and we know they’ll think about those deaths every Christmas after that,” Gaither said.
Gaither, her children grown, had volunteered for duty in place of another nurse with a young family.
She was looking forward to Christmas dinner at the hospital. “We’re having Persian food, delicious kabobs. We’ve had them before. They’re prepared by the husband of a recent patient who is grateful for her care.”
Gaither had done some baking and she expected police officers and county deputies on duty to drop by for some of the goodies.
Through the evening in the emergency room, physician assistants David Manning and Tamra Morrow, aided by Nikki Barker and Becca Buchanon at the reception entry, had treated several children with flu.
Morrow sympathized with the sick youngsters. She and her husband have their first child, a son, Landon, 10 months old.
“Tad (Hall, ER manager) offered to work for me today or tomorrow, but this is my regular shift, and, even though I hate to miss Landon’s first Christmas, I’ll trade off in the future when he’s old enough for it to mean something,” Morrow said.