When Duty Doesn’t Take a Holiday


Fires. Medical emergencies. Hospitalizations. Crime.

They don't take Christmas off.

So neither do the men and women who work in the fields meeting these needs.

Some of those emergency and health workers shared with us what it means to work on Christmas and how they make their holidays bright.


Lorna Johnson

Staff Registered Nurse, Progressive Care and Intensive Care Units

Providence Centralia Hospital

Johnson has been a nurse for about 14 years and has worked for Providence Centralia Hospital 12½ years. She estimates eight of those years she has worked Christmas day. This year she is scheduled to work shifts on Dec. 24, 25 and 26. Johnson said she often has volunteered to work on Christmas instead of her co-workers with young children because she remembers what it was like to be a mother of small children and to share special memories like Christmas morning.

“That's important to me,” Johnson said. “I support and encourage the other nurses who have young children. My life is free, my kids are grown.”

Johnson's family copes with her Christmas shifts by moving their Christmas celebration to a different day near the holiday. Johnson said she has never felt sad about missing Christmas day because she focuses instead on the season, rather than a particular day.

“Any day I get my family together is a special blessing so I mind having it a few days before Christmas or after,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Christmas is usually a pretty enjoyable day to be at the hospital. In her departments, co-workers bring treats and they have a special potluck buffet to make the day feel more festive. And this year they will be holding a secret Santa gift exchange as well.

Hospital spokesman Chris Thomas said every department in the hospital has different traditions for workers who have duty on Christmas. But no matter their specific celebrations, Thomas said throughout the hospital there are workers who volunteer to work holidays so their co-workers can be home with their children. It is also not uncommon for departments to have Christmas duty scheduled out one or two years in advance so families know what to expect.

“It's really a team building experience for many of them,” Thomas said of Christmas duty.


Rob Snaza

Undersheriff and Sheriff-elect

Lewis County Sheriff's Office

Snaza's Christmas present to his young deputies this year isn't something that comes tied in a bow. But to Snaza, it's infinitely more important than material gifts: family.

He and his chief, Bruce Kimsey, plan to volunteer to work part of Christmas day in order to relieve some of their deputies with young children for a few hours so they can have time with their families on. It is something Snaza has attempted to do for his deputies since becoming a sergeant in 2002. He said each holiday he tries to work with every deputy with a family to make sure he or she at least gets time for a special Christmas meal or to be able to come in late on Christmas so they can watch children open their presents.

“We've got a lot of young deputies with young children and newborns and these are important times,” Snaza said.

Sheriff-elect Snaza has been with the Lewis County Sheriff's Office 20 years and before that for Napavine Police Department for four years. His kids are ages 14 and 16, and have grown up around the demanding schedule of law enforcement, which he said sometimes means he is away for special holidays such as Christmas or Thanksgiving. Often, if his schedule called him away, the family would plan a special celebration at another time. Even now, Snaza said, he can't always be with his kids every time he wants to, but he makes sure they know they are loved and supported by both of their parents.

“As long as you try to make those special events, the basketball games, the school concerts, that's important,” Snaza said. “That's what my wife and I have tried to do, have at least one of us there at those events.”

Making time for family every day of the year, not just at Christmas, is also a value the Sheriff's Office stresses, Snaza noted. Leadership encourages deputies to swing by their sons’ football games for a few minutes while on duty, or will work with them to adjust their schedule so they can make their daughters’ piano recitals.

“It's really a team environment out here,” Snaza said. “And we really support families first. Without our families, it's really tough.”


Tera Green


Riverside Fire Authority

As a mom of a nearly 4-year-old and a newborn, Green knows the joy in a child's eyes at Christmastime. Even so, she also knows that duty can and will call sometimes. Green worked Christmas eve last year and Christmas day the year before.

Green does not work the Christmas shift this year and said the firefighters work hard to share the less-than-ideal duty days so that everyone gets some special holidays with their families. She said she suspects that when her children get a little older, there will be years that are hard for their family because she does have to work.

“Home life, you have to work around it and celebrate early or late,” Green said. “You just make it work.”

Still, Riverside Fire Authority as an entity encourages workers to balance their work lives with their home lives. Some stations have invited families to come in on Christmas for a special holiday meal or a visit while a loved one is on duty.

And Green came up with a project meant to brighten Christmas for a few local families, as well as possibly the fire authority staff. In 2007 she founded a Christmas tradition sponsoring Christmas for local families. She asked the school counselor for Washington and Jefferson-Lincoln Elementary schools to recommend a couple families that could use some help providing Christmas for their children but who do not qualify for other programs such as Toys for Tots.

The staff has traditionally sponsored two families. They are provided wish lists, the firefighters union funds the effort and Green does the shopping. She then brings the gifts to the fire station to have the other firefighters help her wrap and deliver the presents.

“We try to bring them while the kids are at school that way the kids don't know,” Green said. “We leave it up to the parents to decide what they tell their kids.”

Green said the families always show a great deal of appreciation. She said the father in one family came to the fire station the next Christmas to show his appreciation by making a $20 donation for toward gifts for that year's recipients.

Green also recalled one year when the gift delivery wasn't made until almost Christmas day. The firefighters arrived in the fire truck and invited the children out to explore the equipment while some of them sneaked the gifts into the house. Green said meeting the children and seeing the relief on the parents' faces made her want to do even more for them.

“It's a real tear-jerker,” she said. “It really is one of the best things I do this season.”