(Not) home for the holidays

It's business as usual for those who work on Christmas

Oak Bay firefighters Jon Popham

Oak Bay firefighters Jon Popham

Business as usual for those who work on Christmas

While many people will spend Christmas Day with friends and family, opening presents and sharing meals, there’s a group of dedicated individuals for whom the holiday is just another day at the office.

Working Dec. 25 may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for emergency responders, transit officials and others who work on the holiday, it’s just part of the job.

“It’s just a regular work day here for us,” said Oak Bay Fire Chief Gerry Adam. “In fact, when I was younger I enjoyed coming to work, because the house was kind of wild with the young kids – it kind of got you out of the house for a while, and you came home and dinner was ready.”

On Christmas, instead of starting their shift at 8 a.m., the five firefighters who will be working that day are permitted to come in an hour later, giving them more time with their families in the morning. And those members who have small children are often looked out for by colleagues who don’t.

“Guys who have no kids at home will come in early and relieve the guys that do,” Adam said.

It’s the same story at the Oak Bay Police Department.

“It’s common practice here when we’re selecting our holidays,” said Sgt. Ray Maxwell. “We look and see who has young children and who doesn’t. Those with young children, we usually leave the Christmas period available for them to select a couple days off.”

For those who are working, there’s always a few members of the community who ensure that everyone gets a little taste of Christmas. Gifts of cookies, candies and chocolate are frequently dropped off at police headquarters for the officers on duty, Maxwell said.

“There’s always a lot of citizens looking to fatten us up.”

It’s not just police and fire officials who punch the clock on the 25th. B.C. Transit buses in the Capital Region will continue to run on a holiday schedule. Roughly 300 operators will be working on the holiday and operations manager Kerry Gauvin says many of them actually look forward to their shift.

“They get a real feel-good feeling from driving on Christmas morning,” he said. “There are a lot of people trying to get to family members, who have no other way to get there … or sometimes they just get people that ride the bus because they’ve got nowhere to go. They may just ride one bus, then get on another bus, and that same operator may see them later on in the day get back on the bus again.

“A lot of operators get some satisfaction out of that.”

The Guardian Pharmacy on Oak Bay Avenue is one of a handful of local businesses which will be open on Christmas. Owner Fitim Hajrizaj says closing up shop on the holiday would be doing residents a disservice.

“People have to go to the hospital, and hospitals may not have all the medication people need, so it’s very important for a pharmacy to be open,” he said.

This will be the first Christmas since Hajrizaj and his brother purchased the pharmacy. They’re hopeful that by next year, they will have employees that can work the holiday, allowing them to spend the day with their family, who live in Burnaby.

This year, they’ll have to be satisfied with a whirlwind visit.

“We’re going to close earlier on (Christmas), and hopefully there will be a ferry. We can stay overnight and come back in the morning,” Hajrizaj said.

That’s just the way it is for those who work on Christmas. But if it means that everyone else can celebrate the holiday in comfort, it’s a worthwhile sacrifice, said Adam.

“That’s just the nature of the beast, that’s the service we provide,” he said. “We just hope it’s a quiet Christmas.”