TWIN FALLS — After responding to medical calls for a few hours Thursday, Twin Falls firefighters started preparing their Thanksgiving meal.
At the city’s main fire station on Second Avenue East, a turkey was cooking in a Traeger grill in an outdoor courtyard. Firefighters were also searing tri-tip on a stove, peeling potatoes and preparing a sweet potato casserole with marshmallows.
For many Americans, Thanksgiving is a day of family, food and football. But for some — including emergency responders, retail employees and hospital medical professionals — it’s a workday.
In total, 12 Twin Falls firefighters were working Thursday: five at the main fire station, three each at two substations and one at Joslin Field — Magic Valley Regional Airport.
The “A” shift of firefighters, who arrived at 8 a.m. Thursday for their 48-hour shift, were preparing 16 pounds of turkey and six pounds of tri-tip. They were getting ready for their family members to join them for an early afternoon meal.
Karisha Hatridge was the first to arrive. She exchanged greetings, jokes and hugs. Her father, Rick Hatridge, and her boyfriend are both firefighters.
Since she was a child, she has visited her father at the fire station on holidays. “When you’re a family member of a public servant, it’s part of the gig,” she said, as she arranged baby carrots, cauliflower and olives on a serving plate.
The experience is fun, she said, and it’s like having a large family.
“I’ve known a lot of these guys for a long time,” she said, and she enjoys seeing their families, too.
After Hatridge finished arranging vegetables on the serving platter, she carried it over to the kitchen table, where Battalion Chief Brian Cunningham and another firefighter were sitting. “Here, have a vegetable,” she said.
In a dimly-lit room across the hallway, a couple of city police and fire dispatchers wore headsets and responded to calls, looking at their computer screens.
It’s their temporary workspace until a dispatch area in the newly-remodeled police station is up-and-running with the necessary equipment, Cunningham said, and that should be around mid-January.
It’s the 25th year of Cunningham’s career, so working Thanksgiving is fairly normal.
“It’s something I’m very accustomed to at this point,” he said. When he’s working a holiday, he celebrates with his family on a different day.
But for some firefighters who are newer, working holidays and their regular 48-hour shifts away from home can be a challenge.
“The shift schedule can be tough for new folks to get used to,” Cunningham said, especially if they have children.
How does the fire department decide who works holidays? It’s whatever crew happens to be scheduled that day, just like usual. “If it’s your shift, you’re here,” Cunningham said.
By noon Thursday, firefighters had received about a half dozen medical calls. That’s fairly typical, he said, but it was hard to predict what the rest of the day would bring. “We hope for no serious emergencies, for sure.”
Contrary to what you may expect, it’s “extremely rare” to respond to a fire on Thanksgiving caused by a turkey cooking mishap, Cunningham said. He doesn’t recall ever responding to one himself.
On Thursday morning, it was “go, go, go” with calls, firefighter Scott Wyatt said, but it had quieted down by noontime. “Now, it’s kind of relaxed. We’ll wait for the next round.”
Wyatt, who has been a firefighter for 10 years, said firefighters and their families usually get together at the fire station for a Thanksgiving meal. And sometimes, he celebrates with his family before the holiday.
Compared with the “B” and “C” shifts, there’s a common claim “A” shift tends to work most holidays, Wyatt said. He has worked at least six of the last 10 Thanksgivings.
But it’s part of the job. There are always emergency responders working to make sure the community is safe — Thanksgiving or not.