COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - While many people were able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with loved ones, first responders across our state were at work away from their families, ready to help save lives at a moment’s notice.
Columbia firefighters work a 24-hour shift on the holiday, meaning they can’t even go home for a few minutes to visit their families.
“In past years, we would have family members come up to visit for 30 to 45 minutes, but now with the COVID pandemic, our families can’t visit. So, it’s kind of tough on some of us,” said Captain Burley Collins.
While there’s no training on Thanksgiving, the crew hasn’t been sitting around. They’ve responded to nearly a dozen calls.
“There’s no telling what we may get,” said Battalion Chief Thomas Niles. “Hopefully, everyone stays safe, but the guys are ready to go at any time.”
The pandemic has made life more challenging for these firefighters, who put themselves at risk every time they respond to a call.
“There’s no sense of normalcy for any of us,” explained Niles. “This is different for pretty much everyone, even first responders. We wear our masks like we’re supposed to; we try our best to social distance, but at any time there’s a risk.”
Despite the long hours, lack of sleep, and risk of catching COVID-19, these men and women love what they do.
“A good day you save somebody’s life, you save somebody’s property, even something as small as a photo album,” Collins noted. “If you save that photo album, that can mean a great deal to the person that owns it.”
Typically, people would drop off food for the firefighters working Thanksgiving, but that also isn’t allowed this year. So, these men and women whipped up a feast on their own.
“Some of the best cooks are here at the fire department, I promise,” said Niles.
The firefighters know their meal will likely get interrupted.
“Usually, every time we sit down for dinner, we go out for a call. So, you just cover your food and reheat it,” said James Rogers, a first-year recruit with Columbia Fire.
He and his coworkers also know that answering that call could prevent someone else from having a tragic holiday.
“It’s very rewarding,” explained Rogers.
If they can’t be at home for the holiday, the firefighters say the station is the second-best place. “We’re a big family anyways,” said Collins. “We kind of celebrate Thanksgiving just like a regular family would.”
Columbia firefighters also want to send their condolences to the thousands of South Carolinians missing a loved one at their dinner tables this holiday season.