‘It’s a sacrifice but that’s part of the job’: How first responders celebrate Thanksgiving on the job

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — On Thanksgiving, many people spend time with their families, cooking, eating and being together. However, not everyone gets to do so, and are instead spending the holiday with their second families.

Dozens of first responders are hard at work throughout the holidays in the Cape Fear.

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“Everybody on shift has worked holidays multiple times, so that becomes the norm,” New Hanover County Fire Rescue Firefighter Trevor Alger said.

“You have the fire family, and then you have the home life family,” one Leland Fire Rescue firefighter said.

Some firefighters say working holidays has become second nature for them

“I like it,” New Hanover County Fire Rescue Captain Steve Hunt said. “I like being that one who gets to go. I’m jealous if I see a fire truck going somewhere.”

“We miss our families, but we’re so close it doesn’t bother us that badly,” one Leland firefighter said. “With the Fire Service, it’s all about who you work with.”

For the firefighters at New Hanover County Fire Rescue and Leland Fire Rescue, they’ve each become a second family to one another.

The work doesn’t stop these crews from pulling out the stops for Thanksgiving dinner.

“You try and bring as much of the home experience in here, because we all live together,” Alger said.

Alger says their families would usually even come to the fire station to celebrate holidays or other big events, but the pandemic has forced them to make some changes.

Leland Fire Rescue Captain Jeremy Shaw says they usually crowd together inside the station for Thanksgiving dinner. This year, they held it outside to help distance from each other.

“With the restrictions and us needing to wear a mask and space out and socially distance, just getting to still be able to do all that together is a good time for us,” Shaw said.

The firefighters admit, it gets hard sometimes being away from their loved ones on these special days.

“It’s a sacrifice but that’s part of the job,” Alger said. “We all knew that coming in.”

Even though it’s a holiday, Thanksgiving Day on the job is like every other day for these crews. They still have to be on their toes, and ready to drop everything if a call comes in.

“You can’t ever say, ‘Boy it’s been quiet,'” Alger said.

“It seems like every time we sit down to eat, they get popped for a call,” another New Hanover County firefighter said.

Despite the crazy schedule, they say the job is exactly what they’re thankful for, especially this year.

“You know, it’s our mission to be ready, and be there to serve the public,” Shaw said.

“It’s a special exchange between human beings you get to have, that very few people ever experience,” Alger said.

“Yeah, you hear some really good ‘thank you’s,'” Hunt said.

The fire crews says they have so much to be thankful for.

Fire officials in the Cape Fear say Thanksgiving Day can be one of the busiest days of the year for fire departments around the country.