For most, Christmas Day is one day when, if nothing else, work isn’t a part of the equation. It’s time at home with family and food, and provides a guarantee that the boss isn’t going to make demands.

But for some, a day off on Christmas isn’t a guarantee, and maybe not even an option. Employees in the public safety, medical and pastoral fields, for example, are called to serve, even as the public celebrates at home.

It’s not that they don’t want to celebrate Christmas with their families or would necessarily rather work than relax at home with loved ones. But sometimes, it’s about earning a better wage on a holiday shift.

And sometimes, it’s a matter the greater good and well-being of a community.

Kevin Battle, for example, a police officer in South Portland, would rather allow some of his officers with young children to spend the holiday at home, as his are now grown. Ron Weeman, a Buxton resident, has given up his Christmas Day for the last four or five years to cook turkey dinner for those in need, because he doesn’t want to see Buxton residents go hungry that day. Paramedic Allison Ross will spend Christmas at United Ambulance’s station behind the Bridgton Hospital. They are just some of the people reporters at Current Publishing talked to this week about working on Christmas.

On duty, as always

In the public safety sector, while almost everyone else is unwrapping gifts, drinking eggnog and feasting on holiday goodies on Christmas, police officers and firefighters are on duty, making sure communities are safe.

In South Portland, veteran police Officer Kevin Battle often works on Christmas. In Scarborough, Lt. Nate Contreras, firefighter and paramedic, typically pulls Christmas duty, too.

Battle recalled that when he was a rookie on the police force nearly 25 years ago, officers with more seniority would volunteer to work on Christmas Day so he could be home with his two boys.

Battle said, “The guys with seniority would say, ‘You’ve got young kids, mine are grown.'”

Now, Battle’s sons are adults, and he is carrying on the tradition of working Christmas to help out fellow officers.

“I’ve got seniority. I could take Christmas off but one of the guys on my shift here, he’s got young kids,” Battle said. “When you have kids, that’s what Christmas is about.”

Battle is working this Christmas and has done so in previous years. He said that the day has its own routine.

“In a lot of ways on the police side, it’s just another day,” Battle said. “You’ve got to keep people safe and enforce the law so people can have a good Christmas.”

He’ll get up around 5:30 a.m. to enjoy the tree with his family. Then he’ll work a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift.

“The morning is usually pretty quiet,” he said.

Traffic will pick up around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. as people travel to visit family and friends, he said.

Around noontime, Battle said, hings get busier for an unfortunate reason: domestic violence calls.

“There are a number of domestics,” he said.

He said people start to argue over such things as how much was spent on gifts or even the gifts themselves. Then the arguments escalate, Battle said, and police are called.

They don’t hesitate to arrest an abuser, even if sometimes people object that they should get a break because it’s a holiday, he said.

“It is domestic violence, and if you see signs there was domestic violence you’re mandated by law to make the arrest,” Battle said. “There’s no exemption in the law that says ‘except on Christmas morning.'”

He said police also get calls for people falling on icy walkways and for traffic accidents. He said that a few years ago, police assisted when firefighters got a call about a Christmas tree that had caught on fire. “There was a good bit of damage but nobody was hurt,” he recalled.

And years ago, before police had the electronics they use today to trace calls, Battle said, pranksters would call the police station around midnight on Christmas Eve and report a prowler on the roof of a house, and then hang up. Even though police suspected it was a prank, Battle said, “you had to treat it like a real call.”

In Scarborough, Contreras, a firefighter and paramedic for Platoon 3 at the Dunstan Station, also often works on Christmas. He said he’s been on duty every Christmas for the last nine years.

Contreras said firefighters take turns working various holidays. “It’s based on your schedule and your rotation. We all work holidays,” he said.

Still, if a firefighter with young children ends up scheduled to work Christmas, another colleague with more seniority often will volunteer to cover the shift, said Contreras, who doesn’t have children.

Firefighters work long hours. Contreras, who has worked for Scarborough for four years and before that worked five years in South Portland, will start his shift at 8 a.m. on Christmas Day. It won’t end until 8 a.m. on Dec. 26.

Because firefighters are away from home for such a long time, Contreras said, there is “an opportunity for families to stop by and say, ‘Hi.'”

However, he said, his fellow firefighters are like family because they all work so closely together.

“You’re not with your immediate loved ones but you’re still with people who care about you,” he said.

Christmas is often very busy for the department, Contreras said. Typically, from 70 percent to 75 percent of the calls received are for medical emergencies.

On holidays, when doctor’s offices are closed, people reach out to emergency services more often, he said.

“They don’t know who else to call besides 911,” Contreras said. “It’s pretty busy when it comes to medical stuff.”

And of course there are fires. He said that he was part of the junior fire department as a youth growing up in Topsham, and remembers a house burning down on Christmas Day.

In his time with Scarborough, Contreras hasn’t seen anything that dramatic. Stove fires can occur because of the cooking going on for the holiday, he said.

In between calls, firefighters – who have a reputation as good cooks – celebrate the holiday by putting on a Christmas meal.

“We don’t starve. Put it that way,” Contreras said.

He said each firefighter is responsible for providing a dish. “I’m doing the mashed potatoes,” he said. They’ll eat turkey and ham, as well.

But depending on the volume of calls, everyone may not be sitting down at the same time at the table. “The crew may not get a chance to eat together,” Contreras said.

As for his family Christmas, he said, he and his wife will celebrate the holiday together a day early, on Christmas Eve. They’ll pay holiday visits to other family after Christmas, when he’s off duty.

“You just improvise,” Contreras said.

– Tess Nacelewicz

‘Like any other day’

Also protecting public safety this Christmas are rescue personnel. Ambulance drivers, paramedics and emergency medical technicians in each of the communities of southern Maine have to be ready to respond to any numbers of emergencies, Christmas day or not.

Such is the case for two of United Ambulance’s best: Allison Ross, of North Bridgton, and Lori Buckingham, of Harrison. The two will spend Christmas at United’s station behind the Bridgton Hospital.

Despite having to work on the biggest holiday of the year, neither is fazed by the prospect, knowing Christmas dinner, exchanging gifts and spending time with family can be done another time.

“The community thinks of us. People bring trays of cookies. We’ll chit-chat a little bit and they’ll wish us a Merry Christmas. It’s very nice,” said Buckingham, a nine-year EMT Intermediate at United.

Buckingham will work her usual 8-hour shift on Christmas and then go home and spend the remainder of the day with family. Same with her coworker, paramedic Allison Ross, except her day will be longer.

Ross, 36, who has worked for United Ambulance branches in Lewiston and Auburn in addition to Bridgton, says Christmas “is like any other day.”

Ross said employees work a set schedule, and her usual workweek consists of a 24-hour day and a 16-hour day, totaling 40 hours. “This year, Christmas just happened to fall on my day to work. We all work a set schedule, and if a holiday happens to fall on one of them, you have to work it,” she said.

For example, her husband Jason Ross, who also works for United Ambulance, had to work Thanksgiving.

“You get used to it. You just plan ahead and treat it like any other day,” Ross said.

One of the potential benefits of working on Christmas, she said, is the tendency of it being a quiet day, although that can change in a split second.

“It’s usually subdued everywhere,” she said. “But, who knows? You never know.”

– John Balentine

No one goes without

In Buxton, Ron Weeman is focused on helping people who aren’t so lucky. Early on Christmas day when most in Buxton will be snoozing in warm beds, Weeman will rise and go out into the cold of the wee hours to cook for the lonely, needy and downhearted.

A grandfather of four, Weeman will be the chef cooking the annual, free Christmas dinner served noon to 2 p.m., on Christmas Day at Buxton Centre Baptist Church, 938 Long Plains Road.

Helping the needy has become a holiday tradition for Weeman, who has been giving up his own Christmas day at home with family for the past four or five years.

“It’s to help people, there are people who need a meal,” Weeman explained.

Like Santa, he’ll have some volunteer helpers.

With a half-dozen in the church kitchen, including his wife, Betty Ann, Weeman and his helpers will cook a traditional holiday dinner with all the fixin’s – turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and “all kinds of pies,” Weeman said.

Church members donate the food. Vegetables for the meal will be prepared the day before Christmas.

“I’ll get over early and get the turkeys going,” Weeman said recently at the church.

A gathering of about 50 is expected at the church for the meal, which will be served buffet style. Reservations are not needed and Weeman said everyone is welcome. “People can just come,” said Weeman, a member of the church for 30 years and a former deacon and church trustee. “We deliver to people who can’t get out.”

No one should go without a hot Christmas meal in Buxton. Volunteers will drive meals to Buxton’s on-duty police officers on Christmas and to the town’s elderly shut-ins.

Weeman will open presents on Christmas Eve at a daughter’s house.

– Robert Lowell

A necessary sacrifice

While Weeman worries about people in need, there are those concerned with animals in need, too, at Westbrook’s Animal Refuge League.

The shelter has never had a hard time getting staff members to sign up to work on Christmas, according to executive director Toni McLellan.

Though getting paid time-and-a-half might provide some incentive, the workers say they come in for a different reason.

“They still need love, even though it’s Christmas,” said Justine Higgins, a small animal specialist, about the bunnies, birds, rats and other rodents she takes care of at the shelter in Westbrook.

“They’re like family, too,” she said.

Melanie Harper, who’s only been a member of the shelter’s kennel staff for three months, already feels the same attachment.

“I kind of look at it like foster kids,” she said.

Even though, for Harper, coming in on Christmas means not spending part of the day with her own 16- and 5-year-old sons, she believes it’s a necessary sacrifice.

“Somebody’s got to take care of them, and they’re ours to take care of,” she said about the animals.

Both Harper and Higgins are working the morning shift on Christmas at the Animal Refuge League. They’ll come in, feed the animals, let them get some exercise and clean their cages.

Higgins said she’s going to try to get to the shelter early, so she can leave early for a family gathering at her parents’ house in Windham.

“I might be a little bit late, but that’s not a big deal to me,” she said.

Higgins didn’t work with animals before she was hired at the shelter about a year ago. She’s just always had them and loved them. And her brood is constantly growing.

“The more I touch, the more I take home,” she said.

Harper, who previously worked at the Animal Welfare Society in Kennebunk, said she usually works on Christmas and her kids have gotten used to it.

“They understand that this is what I do. It’s not a job; it’s a way of life for me,” she said about caring for rescue dogs.

Harper said she’ll probably open presents with her younger son before she leaves for work, and afterward, the whole family will head from their home in Saco to her sister’s house in Waterboro with a green bean casserole in hand.

“It’s my favorite,” she said about the dish. “I always make it so I can have the leftovers.”

In total, about 20 staff members, aided by volunteers, will work at the shelter on Christmas Day. One of them will be McLellan, who feels if she’s making her staff work, she should work, too.

“I’ll sign up to clean, but I’ll end up staying the whole day,” she said.

And though she’ll meet up with family members at some point, getting there in time for dinner is not her biggest priority.

“I’ve sort of convinced them to go ahead without me,” she said.

– Leslie Bridgers

South Portland police Officer Kevin Battle, shown here Dec. 12 helping out at a Lions Club charity event at the Target store near the Maine Mall, is one of the Mainers who talked to Current Publishing about working on Christmas Day. When Battle first joined the force, and had a young family, older officers would take the Christmas shift so he could be home with his kids. Now that his kids are grown, he works the holidays. “I’ve got seniority. I could take Christmas off but one of the guys on my shift here, he’s got young kids,” Battle said. “When you have kids, that’s what Christmas is about.” (Staff photo Brandon McKenney)
Justine Higgins of the Animal Refuge League in Westbrook feeds greens to bunnies, one of the tasks she will perform while working on Christmas Day. (Staff photo by Leslie Bridgers)Lori Buckingham, left, and Allison Ross, employees at United Ambulance Corps in Bridgton, stand beside the ambulance corps’ Christmas tree in the station behind Bridgton Hospital. Ross and Buckingham will work Christmas Day providing emergency response services if the need arises. They are just two of many southern Maine workers who work Christmas Day while the rest of us enjoy a day off. (Staff photo by John Balentine)South Portland police Officer Kevin Battle, shown here Dec. 12,
2009, helping out at a Lions Club charity event at the Target store
near the Maine Mall, has retired after 26 years with the
department. Two years ago he was one of the Mainers who talked to
Current Publishing about working on Christmas Day. When Battle
first joined the force, and had a young family, older officers
would take the Christmas shift so he could be home with his kids.
Now that his kids are grown, he works the holidays. “I’ve got
seniority. I could take Christmas off but one of the guys on my
shift here, he’s got young kids,” Battle said at the time. “When
you have kids, that’s what Christmas is about.” (File photo)


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