Special Care Unit Nurse Brenda Higgins checks a record at Blue Hill Memorial Hospital. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY JENNIFER OSBORN

Christmas makes everything special, even work

BLUE HILL — Special Care Unit Nurse Brenda Higgins has worked on Christmas Day for the past several years and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“This is Christmas number eight,” Higgins said.

If Higgins isn’t scheduled to work that day, she offers to swap shifts with a parent who has young children.

“I think people with little children should be home with them,” said Higgins, a mother of three grown children and grandmother to five.

Higgins prefers to have Thanksgiving Day off, which is easier for big family celebrations.
She and her family celebrate Christmas together a week earlier or later.

“Last year we did it on New Year’s Day,” she said.

Higgins started working at Blue Hill Memorial Hospital 18 months ago. Previously she worked at a hospital in southern Maine.

Higgins said she likes working the holiday.

“Even though they are in the hospital, everybody is still in a good mood,” Higgins said. “We make it fun.”

“I have a tradition of handing out scratch tickets,” Higgins said. “It’s always a doctor who wins.”

Iain Richardson will be selling lottery tickets, liquor and last-minute Christmas gifts on Christmas Day at Merrill & Hinckley in Blue Hill, where he works as a clerk.

Iain Richardson

“I’ll be here 8 to 2,” Richardson said.

The Brooklin resident has worked previous Christmas Days at the Brooklin General Store

Holiday work is OK for the single man.

“I like working on holidays,” Richardson said. “Usually there’s only one or two employees around. It’s pretty simple. It’s a nice way to make an extra buck. Everything counts these days.”

Plus, “it’s Christmas,” Richardson said. “Everybody’s got a good attitude.”

Emergencies know no holidays, so in some respects working on Christmas is just like working any other day for a police officer.

“It all depends on what happens,” said Detective Dotty Small, a veteran of 18 Christmas Day shifts with the Ellsworth Police Department.

First hired in 1981, she worked five of those shifts as a dispatcher. Then she worked 13 as a patrol officer until she was promoted to detective in 1999.

Detective Dotty Small

Small said factors including weather determine if a particular Christmas Day will be quiet or busy for those officers who are working.

“Some years you can go home and watch your kids open presents,” she said. “Some years you can’t.”

Working on Christmas means officers may have to plan their days differently than most people do. If an officer’s shift starts at noon, Small said, he or she may have a Christmas breakfast with the family instead of a dinner.

A tragedy on Christmas Day, such as a murder or fatal car crash, tends to be harder for everyone involved than if it had happened on a different day as future Christmases are shaped by memories of that event.

Small said community members tend to be especially generous and supportive around Christmas, whether it is paying for an officer’s coffee at a store or dropping off food at the police station.

Hopefully you won’t have to call 9-1-1 on Christmas. But if you do, there are dispatchers working that day to take your call and send help your way. Working on Christmas might sound like a drag, but for the two dispatchers working in Bucksport, it’s not too big a sacrifice.

Dispatcher Dan Joy

“Normally my family celebrates prior to Christmas day,” said Daniel Joy, who will take the morning shift from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., as he as often done throughout his 25 years dispatching. “So normally I take a shift on Christmas Day so that other people can be with their family.”

His colleague, Elizabeth McCann, will cover the evening shift from 3 to 11.

“My family usually gets together on Christmas Eve anyway,” she said. “Christmas Day isn’t really that big of a deal for me. I can work it because I’ve already had my Christmas with my kids and grandkids.”

Dispatcher Liz McCann

In fact, both Joy and McCann said it’s usually not a bad day to work.

“It’s usually not much going on,” said McCann, who has worked several Christmases during her seven years as a dispatcher. “People are usually in a good mood or with their families.”

“It’s really not a drag, it can be super quiet,” Joy said. “Or with just one call we can be super busy. Even a simple chimney fire can be something that can take up a lot of time because you have to take a lot of firefighters away from their festivities, and this time of year you have to be really careful every time you take a truck of water out and with firemen getting on top snowy roofs.”

Neither Joy nor McCann has had any surprise visits from friendly residents bearing fruitcake, but McCann has had a few visits from a few of her two sons, two daughters-in-law, and seven grandkids.

“Merry Christmas to everybody!” she said.

The tight-knit feeling and sense of camaraderie that are trademarks of the fire service are particularly evident on Christmas Day.

Lt. Bobby Dorr of the Ellsworth Fire Department said firefighters are a very family-oriented group and that families are welcome to be at the station, where there is a large room in the back with space to eat and celebrate.

“We work in crews of three,” he said, “and we always have all three families come in and have a meal.”

Families are not there the whole day, however, and Dorr — an eight-year veteran of the department — said the holiday carries with it a “somber feeling” for that reason.

Ellsworth Fire Chief Richard Tupper and Lt. Bobby Dorr

Chief Richard Tupper said crew members will often stay late or come in early, depending on their specific schedule, to give other firefighters more time to spend with their own families at home — particularly those who have young children.

Dorr said the amount of activity on Christmas Day varies from one year to the next. In 2013, firefighters were “kept out all day” as they helped respond to the ice storm that hit the area. Other years, Dorr said, there are no calls for service on Christmas.

“It’s so hit-or-miss with the fire service,” he said.

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