Christmas emergency: the people ready to answer your call

As the country slows down for Yuletide many rescue workers will be hard at work


The festive season is well and truly on us with homes up and down the country decorated to the hilt as the nation prepares for a few days off to chill out and indulge in Yuletide treats.

But spare a thought for the many people who will be hard at work at Christmas – helping the rest of us relax and enjoy the festivities.

We spoke to members of the three emergency services to find out what they will be doing on Christmas Day and the advice they have to ensure we have a happy and healthy Christmas.

The garda: “Crime doesn’t stop just because of the season that’s in it”

Laura Conlon is a community garda at Store Street Garda station in Dublin. In the job for the past eight years, she has spent many a festive season pounding the beat and, despite having becoming a mother seven months ago, this year will be no different.

“I will be working from 7am to 3pm on Christmas Day,” she says. “Crime doesn’t stop just because of the season that’s in it, so we have to ensure that there is a full staff on hand to deal with emergencies. As well as the usual burglaries, road traffic accidents and domestic violence that we may have to deal with, we will also receive plenty of calls from people looking for advice on how to deal with certain situations. And, of course, not everyone celebrates Christmas,” she says.

“My colleagues and I will be on hand to manage the front counter, answer calls, look after prisoners, cover posts such as the GPO, patrol the area and deal with emergencies.”

Garda Conlon, who lives with her husband Shane Redmond (a fellow garda) and daughter Grace, says she is luckier than many emergency workers because she can celebrate with her family after work.

“I was pregnant last year and, although I was at work, I stuck to paperwork and putting together a bit of a dinner for my colleagues who won’t get to go home at all this year as many of them come from down the country,” she says.

“This year, although I will be more active, I will still get to finish at 3pm which is great. I will head over to my aunt’s house where about 12 of my family will have gathered and hopefully they will have kept some dinner in the oven for me.

“So I am very fortunate to be able to have some family time as many others will be working right through the festive season. But, having said that, none of us mind as we knew when we took on the job that this would be required of us .”

The dedicated garda has some advice to ensure the festivities go smoothly for the rest of us.

“There is not more or less crime at Christmas, but no-one likes to experience it at this time of year,” she says.

“When out and about shopping and socialising, keep your belongings close by. Don’t leave your bag out of sight and don’t be walking around with your phone in your hand – if you have to make a call, step in somewhere and do it and then put the phone away.

“Likewise at home, don’t leave valuables or presents in sight – either in the house or in the car. Leave a few lights on when you go out. Just make sure you don’t give anyone the opportunity for a crime.”

She also reminds people not to drink and drive – always have a designated driver – and to “have a very happy and safe Christmas”.

The firefighter: “After a cooked breakfast at the station on Christmas Day our duties remain the same as any other day”

Firefighter and paramedic Terry Dent has been working for Dublin Fire Brigade C Watch for almost 28 years – 27 of them based at Dolphin’s Barn Fire Station. Married to Vera, he has three grown-up children – Stephen, Robert and Olwen – and has worked many Christmases over the years. He says that, while it does impact on family, someone has to do the job.

“I have worked numerous times at Christmas and it does affect all the family,” he says. “I remember my wife trying to keep the children in their beds a lot longer than their friends by telling them all sorts of stories about Santa’s sleigh being broken down until I could get home to open presents.

“This year we [C Watch] are rostered to work Christmas Eve from 9am to 6pm, Christmas Day 10am to 6pm and St Stephens Night 6pm until 10am. We will also work New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, so will be working most of the holiday this year.

“Of course you always envy the guys who are lucky to be off but everybody gets a chance to be rostered off at some point – but those with grown-up family usually swap leave with those who have young children so they can enjoy the whole Santa experience with them.”

Working for the day does take a bit of the holiday feeling away but that’s all part of the job and Dent says it’s business as usual.

“After a cooked breakfast at the station on Christmas Day our duties remain the same as any other day. Firstly equipment must be checked to ensure it is in full working order should it be required,” he says. “After that it will be waiting to see what surprises the public send our way.

“Maintaining an emergency service over the holiday period is vital. As the DFB provide the emergency ambulance service for Dublin City and County, which this year will reach well over 105,000 calls (this does not include the 21,000 fire and rescue calls we also do), the demand for our services does not stop even for Christmas.

“People tend to over indulge during the festivities and this leads to increased drink-driving accidents, assaults and an increase in accidents from falls and other minor injuries.

“On the firefighting side of the service, Christmas can be a busy period with people being careless with candles and overloading electrical sockets with decorations.”

The veteran firefighter says people should adhere to the advice they have heard many times over the years.

“Please never ever drink and drive,” he urges. “The devastation caused by a road traffic accident on families is not something that can ever be recovered from. Even from a firefighters’ perspective of having to deal with fatalities such as the ones in the news recently . . . it is not something I would wish on anyone.

“Also please be careful with lights especially if they have been passed down over some years, and please make sure you unplug them at bedtime and extinguish all candles and, lastly, have a happy Christmas.”

The ambulance man: “Christmas time can see an increase in the amount of calls we receive – relating to anything from cooking accidents to road traffic collisions

Andrew McGowan works for the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) for the National Ambulance Service (NAS) handling 999/112 calls across the country.

Married to Amy since July, this will be his first Christmas at work but, as with all his colleagues across the emergency services, he isn’t complaining.

“I will be working from 7am to 7pm on Christmas Day as this is just the way my roster has fallen,” he says. “We were all made aware that we would work unsociable hours and we could very well end up working on Christmas Day when we took up our posts, so we don’t complain, we just take it in our stride. And the day will be like any other as medical emergencies don’t take a day off just because it’s Christmas.

“In fact Christmas time can see an increase in the amount of calls we receive – relating to anything from cooking accidents to road traffic collisions and everything in between. So we will be on hand to help the public if and when they need us, just like any other day.”

While McGowan’s family will carry on the festivities in his absence, they will save him a bit of dinner.

“With me working the day shift, and no children in the house, I suspect I will be getting up myself at 6am and slipping out of the house before anyone awakes,” he says. “My family will go ahead as normal and have their Christmas dinner at the usual time and take part in all the festivities – someone else will have to look after basting the turkey this year. I should be home around 7.30pm or 8pm and will be looking forward to my reheated Christmas dinner. There will be time for exchanging presents and I will enjoy the evening with my family and friends.

“I will spend most of Christmas Day with my second family who are all my colleagues in NEOC. During our lunch break we hope to have a bit of turkey and a few roast potatoes so we won’t completely miss out on the seasonal festivities.”

Celebrating aside, he encourages people to take care of those less fortunate. “I would advise people to look after the more vulnerable members of society, not just on Christmas Day but all over the festive period,” he says. “Check in on elderly or disabled neighbours and make sure they are warm and don’t need anything over the few days of Christmas. Drive safely, taking note of the road conditions, and never, ever drink and drive. Look out for family and friends during what can be a difficult time for some, who may have lost a loved one this year.

“Give of your time and be there to talk to them and offer a shoulder of support if needed. If you do have an emergency do not hesitate to call 999 or 112 as we will be standing by to help, not only over the Christmas period but throughout the year – 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year – and, on that note, Merry Christmas everyone.”

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