The real heroes of the holiday

Published 10:58 am Wednesday, July 9, 2008

For many people the Fourth of July is a time to celebrate the nation’s independence and spend quality time with friends and family. But for a group of dedicated few, this summer holiday is just another day on the job.

First responders, law enforcement, dispatchers and countless others man the phones, patrol the streets and keep people safe each and every day. But on holidays, there is often more to handle.

Deputy James Smith with the Marengo County Sheriff’s Office has been in law enforcement for seven years. On holidays like July, the biggest difference is the volume of people who are out and about.

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“We want people to have a good time and enjoy themselves,” Smith said. “So we try to work with people and be understanding.”

One of the most common offenses on July 4 is usually alcohol related, Smith said.

“Sometimes people just get a little carried away,” Smith said.

The same is true in the Demopolis city limits according to Officer Rex Flowers with the Demopolis Police Department, who ahs been on the force for the last 15 years. Another common issue is noise complaints from people celebrating and using fireworks.

“As long as people don’t try to damage life or property, then we will work with them,” Flowers said.

Many of the complaints made to law enforcement first come through the Communications Center in the basement of the Demopolis Civic Center.

Dispatchers Jennifer Robertson and Shameka Fluker diligently man the phones, being prepared for just about any kind of call.

“We get a wide variety of calls,” Robertson said. “You just have to stay calm and take charge of the situation.”

Robertson has been a dispatcher in Marengo County for 11 years, and said she enjoys helping to save lives.

For Fluker, the best part about the job is interacting with different kinds of people.

“I’m a people person,” Fluker said. “I like being able to help people and get them the information that they need.”

Also closely tied to the E-911 communications center is Tombigbee EMS, the county’s only ambulance service. On average, they have four employees on call for shifts of 48-72 hours.

Tonsina Poole, who has worked in EMS since 1998, said the hardest part of working on the holidays is being away from her family, especially her two daughters: 15-year-old Ashley and four-year-old Josie.

In an already stressful job, one where each second can mean life or death in some situations, Poole said the holidays can often be non-stop with emergency calls.

Since July 4 is in the summer, Poole said the respond to many calls for heat-related complications. Another surprising emergency call during the holidays is for abdominal pain.

“Sometimes people jus eat too much,” Poole said.

But perhaps the one agency that has the biggest job on the Fourth of July is the fire department.

Not only is the fire department on hand if the city’s fireworks go awry, but they are also poised to respond to fires that result in grills being left on and home fireworks accidents.

James Day, an 18 year veteran with Demopolis Fire and Rescue said they usually try to amp up their personnel numbers on holidays like the Fourth of July.

In addition to firefighters manning their three stations, Day said they also have other personnel out at the city landing and other high volume areas to respond to medical calls and other accidents.

“You really never know what you will get,” Day said. “It would be a grass fire or a river rescue.”

Day said the firefighters don’t get to choose who will be duty on the holidays, they simply rely on their regular scheduling system.

Like Poole, Day said the hardest part is being away from family on the holidays. Firefighters usually are on duty for 24 hours and the off duty for 24 hours.

But although they may have to sacrifice their own family time to help protect others, all of the people on duty this holiday say it is simply a part of doing the jobs they love.

Whether it is on the road, by the phone or waiting with an ambulance, all of these workers can consider themselves the everyday heroes that make holidays a success.