AP NEWS

Families join firefighters, make holiday shift special

November 25, 2017 GMT

HUNTINGTON — Between fighting fires and saving a countless number of lives each day, the Huntington firefighters have a job like no other, which can create an incomprehensible amount of job-related trauma and stress.

But for a moment each Thanksgiving, the members of the Huntington Fire Department get together to pause while enjoying a feast and remembering what they are thankful for: their families and the men and women who fight alongside them daily.

Huntington Fire Capt. Heath Hesson did not shy away from answering what a Thanksgiving at the firehouse meant for him.

“For me it means a holiday away from my kids,” he said. “But someone has got to do it. It might as well be me.”

He said working the holiday makes

him thankful for his family, his co-workers and for the opportunity to help people and make a difference.

“On days like this we try to make it as enjoyable as possible,” he said. “Everyone does their part and pitches in. We have a rookie running around, but he’s not a rookie today. He’s just one of the guys.”

A day of thanks does not equal a day of breaks for Huntington’s firefighters. Almost simultaneously at about 3 p.m. Thursday, just as the Centennial Station men were starting to cook, the Huntington firefighters were called to three possible fires. One in the 1600 block of Artisan Avenue was a legitimate call, but two others in West Huntington turned out to be false alarms.

The police scanner was abuzz with each station taking calls on where they needed to be throughout the city. After a successful response, the Centennial Station firefighters returned to start the Thanksgiving Day cooking.

Misty Gaeger, of Crown City, Ohio, has been a firefighter’s wife for six years. She sat studying for a nursing exam while watching her husband, David, and his comrades through an open wall looking into the kitchen as they worked to piece the meal together.

“It’s interesting to be a firefighter’s wife,” she said. “At first it was nerve-wracking, but the longer we are together, I’m OK with it.”

The Gaegers have a blended family and were without their children Thursday, but Misty said being together with other firefighters’ families was nice.

“Yesterday we did our meal. We have to rearrange everything, which is OK,” she said. “I’m very grateful, because a lot of families might not even get that opportunity to be with loved ones.”

A private dinner at home with the family would be ideal on Thanksgiving, she said, but getting together to see the families of the men her husband works with daily helps to fill the hole.

“For the guys, it’s a big family. Sometimes you don’t really meet the wives, and you only meet them at this time. You get to see everyone and everyone gets along. I really like that,” she said. “They have a brotherhood. This is their family.”

Hesson said the best part of spending holidays at the station is the reunion.

“I think it’s cool. There are some guys who we only see their families once or twice a year like Thanksgiving and Christmas, or sometimes the Fourth of July they will come in,” he said. “But it’s cool that we can get to visit with everyone.”

Firefighter Josh Blake said his family is used to firehouse Thanksgivings — especially his daughter, who doesn’t mind the odd location for a feast.

“My daughter is 5 and she’s spent every Thanksgiving here,” he said. “She’s been around these guys every Thanksgiving.”

The families joined together Thursday evening with the 3 o’clock fire now a distant past. They sat over the meal they created together, enjoying their food and family members’ company, with the Cabell County 911 Dispatch scanner sounding off softly in the background teasing another call that was soon to come.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/ CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.