First responders working today

Published 8:30 am Tuesday, December 25, 2018

For many, Christmas Day is a family holiday; a time when relatives gather to exchange gifts, enjoy a meal together and each other’s company at one of the most sacred times of the year.

But for the first responders responsible for ensuring others have a safe and happy holiday, Christmas is another workday, and in many cases they will miss the family time that others enjoy during the holiday.

For Vicksburg police and Warren County sheriff’s deputies, that means 12-hour shifts and spending most of the holiday in their cars as they patrol city streets and county roads. For firefighters, it means spending a 24-hour shift at one of the department’s fire stations.

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In other words, another regular work day.

“It’s one of those things you and your family learn to understand and get used to; you have a job to do,” Vicksburg police officer Bryant Covington said.

“Once you get used to the kind of work we do — we work weekends, holidays — you get used to working your life around work,” Warren County deputy Zach Primeaux said.

“You’ve got to shuffle your work around your work life. You have to be a little more flexible.”

Police officers and sheriff’s deputies work 12-hour shifts — Vicksburg police work 7 to 7, while deputies work 6 to 6.

In most cases, law enforcement officers and firefighters and their families get together several days before Christmas or the day after to celebrate the holiday. Sometimes, officers may be able to take time during their shift.

“Usually, if it’s quiet, we can allow an officer who lives in the city to go spend some time with their families,” said Lt. Joseph Shows, a police department shift supervisor. “But during that time, if they get a call, they’ll have to respond to the call.”

Primeaux and deputy Sgt. Silento McMorris, who is a shift supervisor for the sheriff’s office, said they follow the same procedure.

And there is the possibility to enjoy some Christmas dinner.

Covington said usually a church group will provide dinner for the officers at the station.

“We’ll work a rotation so everyone can come in and be able to eat during the day,” he said.

McMorris said a church group will also provide a meal for the deputies and corrections officers working the night shift Christmas night.

And in between, there are the calls.

The officers and deputies said they answer a lot of disturbance calls, calls about impaired drivers and wrecks during the holidays.

McMorris, who is the night shift supervisor for Christmas, said he’s “on the receiving end” of the Christmas shift.

“There will be a lot of kids getting bikes and remote control cars, and it may be getting dark when we go out, but they’ll be trying to get in that last ride or that last run with the remote control car, and we’ll have the usual calls “ he said.

Covington said children with bikes won’t be the biggest problem for the officers, adding most children in the city will be in by the time the night shift comes on. Most of the calls, he said, will involve DUIs and disturbances from the seasonal celebrations.

Different for VFD

Vicksburg firefighters approach their Christmas duty differently.

“We celebrate Christmas here while were on duty,” said Capt. Vernon Wolfe Sr. “A lot of times we’ll bring our families up.”

Wolfe, who’s youngest is 18, said early in his career he tried to always find someone to swap with him so he could be with his kids, “because it was a big deal for them. I’m in the grandfather mode now, so it’s not as hard.”

Like law enforcement, the practice of swapping shifts so firefighters can be with their families is still done. “It gives the guys a chance to see their children open their presents,” he said.

Because they are at the stations, which have kitchens, Wolfe said most of the time on the holiday the firefighters prepare their own food and cook it at the station.

“This is like home to us, so we treat it like home. This isn’t a place where we just stop in every third day; we’re here, and in actuality, I spend more time here than I do at home, because I’m here 24 hours straight, When I’m at home, I’m in and out working or doing some other things.

“We’re fortunate this year that a group is going to come here and feed us, bring food for us, but we usually everybody gets together, brings a dish, prepare food here.

“These guys are family,” he said. “We are family, and our job is to respond to calls. If a call comes in while we’re eating, we get up and go; the food will be there when we get back. We eat when we get the chance.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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