Not everyone is home for the holidays

Thanksgiving is, at its core, a celebration of the tenacity and bravery of the first European colonists who came to the New World to forge a new life in the untamed wilds of North America.


But it’s also all about family, and good food and taking time out to be thankful for all that we have as Americans. (Which makes the blitz of retail sales on Black Friday all the more ironic, but that’s another story.)


Perhaps the best part of it all is taking that time off from the worries of the world to spend that precious time with family to eat way too much turkey, watch a game or two and tune out the outside world.


Not everyone has that luxury. It doesn’t matter what the holiday is – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Independence Day, Easter – the world keeps on turning, and as such it needs that special breed of people to ensure it’s a safe and civilized place.


They are the first responders – the police, firefighters, EMTs, nurses and other medical professionals. Every time 911 is called, someone has to answer.


“It’s one of those things you accept as a police officer or other first responders,” says Frisco Police Officer Grant Cottingham. “As meaningful as holidays are, a city doesn’t stop. As families you have to choose to celebrate on another day, or after your shift, or you make some other arrangement.”


Holidays can actually increase the workload of first responders, so even though Thanksgiving or Christmas might seem like a tranquil day to the ordinary person, that’s not necessarily the case.


Holidays can heighten anxieties in households. Extended families who don’t always get along gather under one roof and, if things turn sour, there can be domestic disputes. A bad football game or a little too much holiday cheer in the form of alcohol can only make matters worse.


Then there’s all the extensive cooking that can increase the potential fire hazards. Everyone has heard the story of the turkey fryer that wasn’t set up right. Absent that, there’s the issue of isolation and depression for some troubled souls during the holidays, which can lead to an increase in incidents of self-harm and attempted suicide, meaning increased work for those working in the emergency rooms and paramedic trucks around Frisco.

“It can be quieter, especially with fewer people on the road, but that can change in an instant,” says Fire Chief Jake Leeper.


And there’s never a break from those of a more larcenous mindset who see opportunities for a retail discount in all the closed businesses around town.


“It can depend on the weather,” Cottingham says, “Usually the holidays start out in the morning as fairly calm, but it picks up in the afternoon and evening. As for domestic disturbances, yeah, you might have people upset about a game or who had a little too much to drink. Holidays kind of function about like a weekend day in that sense, especially if the weather is bad and people have been cooped up and get a little cabin fever.”


Whether they wear badges or fire helmets or scrubs, first responders also form a family bond with their co-workers, so whether it’s at the police station, the ER or the firehouse, those who are on duty often come together with a little holiday food and cheer – but it’s not a replacement for family time.

“We’ll try to build the day (at the fire station) around a meal, and just respond to calls as they come in, but we treat it like a regular day,” Leeper says.


And while it’s easy to remember what these men and women are doing when we see them on duty during the holidays, there’s another group who have to bear the time away that should be remembered – the wives, husbands and children of first responders.


“In a way, Thanksgiving may not be as much of an impact, since you can eat with your family after your shift or the next day before or after, but there are holidays where it’s more of a stress,” Cottingham says. “Like Christmas, when you have kids who want to wake up and open their presents in the morning, but mom or dad are out on duty. That can be tougher so you have to work around that.”


First responders of all stripes are the first in and last out, who run towards fires, towards danger, and towards the ER when the EMTs bring in an injury. They do it every day, holiday or not, and they put their fellow citizens first.


That’s something everyone in Frisco can be thankful for this holiday season.