Working on the holidays

2013-12-22T13:15:00Z Working on the holidaysBy Christine Bryant Times Correspondent
December 22, 2013 1:15 pm  • 

Despite the popular tune, not everyone can be home for Christmas.

Shawnda Pointer knows this first hand.

As a Telemetry nurse at Advocate South Suburban Hospital, her job monitoring patients' vital signs is necessary 365 days a year - including days when most are at home relaxing and spending time with their families.

"It can be difficult to work a holiday," Pointer said. "I do miss spending time with my family. However, I also find great satisfaction in caring for my patients who are not as fortunate to go home and be with their families."

Pointer is just one of many who will spend this Christmas at work.

Whether it's the gas station owner who makes sure his clients have enough gas to get to their families' homes, the restaurant that stays open Christmas Eve to serve a hot meal, or the emergency workers who take care of those in need, some jobs require staffing every day of the year - even holidays.

For Capt. Nick Fanelli of the Schererville Fire Department, working holidays is part of the job and his commitment to serve the community.

"Unfortunately we miss out on family gatherings and celebrations," he said. "We do get extra compensation for working the holiday, but nothing can truly replace quality time with family."

Tracy Anderson, police information director with the Munster Police Department, said the department usually provides a meal for all the officers and dispatchers working on holidays.

"Also, if they live in town, they may be allowed to take a little longer break if the call volume allows," she said.

Often, the holidays means some employees stepping up and offering to work for those who have children or family celebrations.

"Officers and dispatchers sometimes coordinate with fellow officers and dispatchers by switching shifts to make sure they are at their family's celebration if they want to be," Anderson said.

Although some employers schedule employees to cover shifts, others have workers on standby just in case they are needed.

For Allen Kent, owner of Kent Heating and Air Conditioning, someone is always available if a heating emergency occurs - whether it's Christmas Eve, Christmas or New Year's.

In fact, Kent said he remembers a very cold Christmas Day morning about 15 years ago when the pager went off at 4 a.m.

"It never stopped going off until about 3 p.m.," he said. "At that point, I had dispatched 33 service calls."

His kids were so anxious to open gifts that he finally broke away for 45 minutes around noon, heading straight back to work afterward.

"In between I went to the office, gathered needed parts and ran parts to the techs at customers' homes three times," he said. "Needless to say, it wasn't the most enjoyable Christmas with my family."

Though he said demand for service can affect call times, they answer the phones even in the wee hours of Christmas Day and New Year's Day morning.

Having employees available year-round requires a system that relies heavily on teamwork, and Horace Bridges, a chaplain at Advocate South Suburban Hospital, said each of the hospital's chaplains work together to make it easier to be on the clock during a holiday.

"They may split shifts so that they only work a 4-hour day to give each staff member part of the day to be with their loved ones," he said. "They also take turns, so one may say 'I'll take Christmas Day in exchange to have New Years Day off.'"

Some will even have their families come into the hospital to have lunch with them during their breaks - another popular alternative for firefighters, Fanelli said.

"Just like any situation, we have to make the best of the moment," he said.

This year, Bridges will miss part of the holiday season because he'll be at the hospital, offering words of encouragement and support to patients. He, too, is making the best of the moment.

"I don't look at the holidays as being difficult to work," he said. "It's part of the ministry. Instead, I put it into perspective by realizing that I'm just working and not one of our patients - ill, and lying in a hospital bed during the holidays."

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