(Not) Home for the Holidays 6

During the Season of Giving, Give Thanks to Our First Responders

At their heart, holiday celebrations are built upon two fundamental ideas: tradition and togetherness. Though we may honor them in different ways, we all share the desire to be surrounded by family and friends on those sacred days. For people who serve and protect the community, the privilege of being home is not guaranteed. First responders are often asked to sacrifice time with family to answer the call of duty. We spoke to three such dedicated individuals to learn about their time of service and the special holiday traditions they have embraced within their departments to maintain the spirit of the season. 

Cameron Abell, engineer/apparatus operator, Billings Fire Department 

How long have you served the community? 

I have been with the Billings Fire Department for almost 12 years. I was promoted to engineer about a year ago. I served as a Shepherd volunteer firefighter for three years prior to getting hired with Billings.

What inspired you to join the fire department? 

Many firefighters my age were shaped by the events of Sept. 11, and I was no different. During my senior year, I had applied to a few colleges but was still not sure what I wanted to study. That is when my school’s secretary asked if I had considered a career in firefighting. Her husband was a captain with the BFD, and she mentioned that I should do a ride-along. Thanks, Jane!

When your schedule dictates that you cannot be home for the holidays, how do you celebrate with your crew or department? 

Firefighters know going in that there are days we will miss. Birthdays, graduations, holidays and many other events happen while we are away. What makes things bearable? It is the brothers and sisters I work with. There is no other job where you spend this much time with your coworkers. We eat in the same room, we sleep under the same roof, we see the good and the bad together for 24 hours at a time over a 20- to 30-year career. And after we are done, we hang out together on our days off. When you join the fire service, you gain a second family. 

What’s your favorite holiday tradition at the station?

Firefighters love good food. We have some of the best cooks in this town. On Thanksgiving, there is no administration on duty, there is no extra duty and no training, only emergency calls. So, we cook—a great breakfast, no lunch, only appetizers and then dinner. A favorite meal for Thanksgiving is prime rib, and for the firehouse, this is a great choice. If we get a call, the prime can cook unattended for a while. It’s always a fun day; many firefighters will have their family come in.

Tina Hoeger, patrol officer, Billings Police Department

How long have you served the community?

I have worked for the Billings Police Department for 25 years, 15 of them as a patrol officer. I started out in 1993 as a police clerk.

What inspired you to join the Billings Police Department?

Initially, I was hired as a police clerk working in the office. I enjoyed it so much, but I wanted to do more. I tested for patrol and in 2002 became a police officer. I wanted to do more in my community and help those who were not in a position to help themselves for whatever reason. I am a field training officer with the department, helping to train new officers and assist in their development. I have also served as a domestic violence investigator targeting not just enforcement but victim assistance and support. I am involved in my local police association and serve on its board. I recently became the Adopt a Cop for Friendship House in Billings.

When your schedule dictates that you cannot be home for the holidays, how do you celebrate with your crew or department?

Our community is very generous when the holidays roll around. We are always getting trays of food and treats delivered to the department, which is very appreciated because we do have to work the holidays. This allows the crew to share some food together in between calls for service on those holidays. My department is absolutely a second family for me, so if I cannot be home for the holidays, I am grateful to be able to spend it with my coworkers.

What is your favorite holiday tradition at the department?

Each year, the department hosts Photos with Santa. Our chief dresses up as Santa, and our officer of the year gets to dress as his elf. The entire department is invited to this event along with their families. The children get their picture taken with Santa and his elf. It is a wonderful time for all of us to get together with our families and socialize with each other.

Scott Miller, HELP Flight/flight paramedic, SCL Health St. Vincent Healthcare

How long have you served the community?

I have been working in EMS for 34 years and with St. Vincent HELP Flight for the last 25 years.

What inspired you to join the HELP Flight?

I started my career in EMS with Billings Ambulance Service as an EMT. During transports to St. Vincent Healthcare, I had the opportunity to work with members of HELP Flight and was inspired by their job, and I dedicated my education and training to work toward a position on the team. With their encouragement, I applied and was hired as an orderly in the hospital. After a couple of years doing this, I applied for a position with the flight team and was hired. I then worked to obtain my paramedic license and have been happily working as a team member since.

When your schedule dictates that you cannot be home for the holidays, how do you celebrate with your crew or department? 

We try to share the holiday schedules from year to year so we can have those special times at home with our families. If we do need to work on a holiday, we try to make the best of the day with our work family. We often have potluck meals so that we can share the spirit with our coworkers. St. Vincent Hospital also provides a meal to associates within the hospital to have during Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are plenty of opportunities to feel appreciation from patients and other staff members for working the holidays.

What is your favorite holiday tradition at the department?

My favorite holiday tradition at work is the holiday meal the hospital provides for all staff working all shifts. I really appreciate that there is a nice meal provided to us when we are not able to be home with our families. It makes you feel blessed to be a part of the hospital family.