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The Ghosts of Christmases Past
Author: Barry Furey
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
I am not sure that there is any correlation between critical events and the holiday season; then again I’ve also read studies that say nothing really changes when there’s a full moon, either. Ask anyone involved in public safety as to the frequency of memorable incidents that occur during both of these times and I’m sure they’ll offer up a different opinion altogether. Now in the northern climes the cooler weather associated with the arrival of winter can be a catalyst for seasonal chimney fires that spread throughout the home and accidents and falls caused by icy roads and sidewalks, but elsewhere around our land climate should not be a factor. Regardless of where we serve I think we all can relate to the string of robberies, burglaries, and larcenies that seemingly begin around Thanksgiving every year when the bad guys begin their particular method of shopping. However, even here, a good portion of these events fade into the global woodwork of our minds, and we’re hard pressed to accurately describe even a handful of them later on.
However, as I can personally attest, there will always be a select number of calls whose memory will follow each and every one of us throughout our careers and become indelibly imprinted as part of the holiday season. Now, the time of the year when most focus on food, friends, family, and festivities may seem like an odd time to broach such a maudlin subject, but as is always the case, there were several catalysts that fueled this month’s missive. It actually began as a general discussion of the topic on my center floor after a child had been killed at a Christmas parade in a neighboring county. What followed was a sharing of personal stories and remembrances. Not surprisingly, much of the talk centered around children; always vulnerable but somehow even more innocent and pure as the year fades away. The older brother who accidentally ran over his younger sister; the father who picked up his child for Christmas visitation – then intentionally jumped with him off of a bridge into the river below were among those scenes recalled in vivid detail. These happened Christmas Eve and Christmas Day respectively. Despite the severity of these events and others like them, the names of those involved have dimmed over the years. While the streets and neighborhoods involved are often associated with these recollections, the most common denominator is the deep seated sorrow that “something like this could happen near the holidays.”
While these ghosts of Christmas past would have provided sufficient impetus to continue on this topic, the ghost of Christmas present reared its head today. As I sit typing late in the evening of December 8, I am confronted by a series of events that will be added to the painful roll during those Christmases yet to come. As of now the names are fresh; not yet chiseled into marble memorials of their service; Rhyne, Crouse, Townes, Davies. In the future, they will be remembered as a Moore County (NC) deputy, a Virginia Tech police officer, a Mount Vernon (NY) firefighter, and Worcester (MA) firefighter who all died in the line of duty within a few hours of each other, and just a few weeks before Christmas in 2011. With firefighter Davies’ sacrifice coming a scant 5 days from the 12th anniversary of a multiple LODD in the same city, I cannot fathom the depth of sorrow currently being experienced in Worcester. And that statement should be by no means interpreted as an attempt to minimize the remaining losses which of themselves are individually tragic.
As guardians of both the public trust and public safety we often personalize traumatic events, and frequently critique ourselves and our fallibly human inability to make everything right. While we have done wonders in our efforts to introduce Critical Incident Stress Management into our centers, it is from being universally available and is probably not applied as frequently as it could and should be. All too often our concerns around the holidays focus on who drew what shifts. Who will be home for the holidays and who will be working? Can anybody swap? Can we work short for a few hours? You can hear these conversations regardless of what holidays you do or do not celebrate. It’s human nature to want to be home with family on days designed to bring us joy. But it’s also incredibly important to be 100% at home with our families and not haunted by the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and yet to come. So this year, why not give your staff the greatest gift of all; inner peace. If you don’t have counseling available for your staff – find some. If you do – use it more.
Short of that; simply lighten the load and raise the spirit. As Dickens said, "It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour." Help spread the word. Merry Christmas.
Our PSAP Management columnist Barry Furey has been involved in public safety for more than 40 years, having managed 9-1-1 centers in four states. A life member of APCO International, he is the current director of the Raleigh-Wake County (NC) Emergency Communications Center.