HAMLET — Stewart Niemyer sat while his son Logan, 16 months old, tore into a Christmas gift on Wednesday morning.
Only they weren’t at home in their pajamas. They weren’t surrounded by the comforts of home — well, not their primary home, anyway. Instead, they were sitting by an unlit fireplace at the Hamlet Fire and Rescue Department. Niemyer reported to work at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, and started his day with a breakfast that included homemade biscuits. Niemyer has worked the past two Christmases.
“This is our family,” Niemyer said. “I feel like I’m with my extended family being here.”
Shortly before noon, nearly a dozen fire fighters and family members gathered to celebrate Christmas and share time together. Chuck Heaton was there. He had received a firefighter piggy bank from his family, who had skipped over opening gifts at home to come to the fire hall and be with Heaton. For them, the sacrifice was well worth it. Alex Heaton, 19, said she’s proud of her father and wouldn’t want him to have a different career.
Pam McKay, of Marston, and Franklin McKay’s mother, prepared Christmas lunch for those at the fire hall. The lunch included pumpkin pie and homemade fruit cake for dessert. McKay started at the department in 2011, and has worked each Christmas Eve or Christmas since then, and Pam has prepared a meal each year. As to call volume, “it’s hit and miss and usually EMS-related.”
Those responsible for public safety are considered essential personnel. There is no day off; there are people to take care of no matter the hour, no matter what the calendar reflects. Kellee Phillips, a registered nurse in Women and Children’s Services at FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital in Rockingham, was splitting her 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift on Wednesday between obstetrics and the nursery.
Phillips was able to squeeze in a few minutes with some family that had dropped by, though. There were three babies born on Tuesday night that needed her attention. The good news was there were no children in the hospital at that time.
“We don’t admit unless it’s absolutely necessary on holidays so they can be home,” Phillips said.
Next to Phillips sat fellow nurse Steve Taylor, who was not in a very jolly mood not because he was at work, but because he has a stomach virus. Taylor was able to watch his family open presents on Wednesday morning via FaceTime on his iPhone.
“I felt included,” Taylor said of the interactive experience.
Unlike the nurses, the doctors are on call today. The skeleton crew consists of key people and, if help is needed, it’s only a phone call away.
“We’re the eyes and ears for the doctors,” Taylor said. “If they’re needed, they come.”
Some might say Taylor has bad luck. He worked Thanksgiving and Christmas and is scheduled to work New Year’s Day as well. Still, he wouldn’t choose another career.
“(You) have to take the good with the bad,” Taylor said.