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Toronto-area first responders reflect on family, working through holidays

‘What’s a stat?’ First responders always on the job
WATCH ABOVE: Many of us hunkered down and enjoyed a turkey dinner this Thanksgiving. But thousands of other people have to work and many of those working are first responders, who are choosing to help families instead of be with their loved ones. Jamie Mauracher reports.

While many families across Canada gathered for get-togethers and meals to mark Thanksgiving, emergency services personnel and shift workers have had to miss those cherished events in the name of duty.

“What’s a stat holiday?” Toronto Police Const. Alex Li, a 15-year member of the service, briefly joked when asked about working during a holiday Monday.

“Not to sound cliche, but it is a calling. It’s something that when we don on the uniform, we have a job to do and the job is to make sure you get to spend time with your family.”

Global News spoke with Li, along with four paramedics from Peel Regional Paramedic Services, about their careers, working on statutory holidays, and being in professions that are on duty 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Marking Thanksgiving 2019

“It’s nice that we work with people that are also our family. Like this morning, we had a Thanksgiving breakfast at 5:30 with just all of us. So we still have that and we’re able to go out there and provide awesome patient care to all the citizens here.” — Casidhe Kusmanko

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“It was more like a work family getting together and sharing food, and enjoy the holiday here — and just experiencing family and community.” — Gopi Kanagalingm

“We have a family here and that means a lot to me. We had a meal today and it might seem odd to people, but really we laughed and had fun and we were able to sort of enjoy the moment and sharing the holiday with our work family.” — Sarah Salvis

The importance of an understanding family and personal support network

“We have an understanding that it does take away from family time and I’m not going to lie, I’ve missed a lot of family dinners and I’ve missed a lot of family gatherings. But at the same time, I have a sworn duty and that is to protect our city — a city that I love. Having an understanding family, having an understanding partner is so important because you do miss those times. And if you have an understanding family and a good support network, it makes for missing those family functions a little bit easier.” — Const. Alex Li

“[Casidhe] has become my best friend in the last year. We share secrets, we destress together, we laugh together, we cry together … it’s fun (working together during a statutory holiday).” — Jamie Pieterbon

“You know it comes with the job. You just have to adjust and let your family members know you’re not going to be available for certain important events. As long as they are able to accept it, and in my case they’re very accepting so I’m lucky.” — Gopi Kanagalingm

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Celebrating with family in other ways

“My mom was a nurse, so I was used to shift work. So I knew what it was like having a mom who wasn’t there on holidays, so we would just pick a different day … It’s a good work-life balance. I still get a holiday and then I’m here on the actual holiday.” — Casidhe Kusmanko

“I grew up with a shift worker parent and so I was kind of used to figuring it out — celebrating on a different day.” — Sarah Salvis

Types of calls during the holidays

“A lot of long weekends unfortunately have to do with collisions because there are so many people out and about visiting families … going to dinners, various events, so we do have a little bit of an increase in collisions. But the calls for service are the same … the city goes on and these calls for service continue.” — Const. Alex Li

“There’s a lot of drinking and driving during Halloween time and then there’s a lot of pedestrians struck as well because all the kids are out and people aren’t really paying attention. Christmases can also be busy. One year I did four VSAs (vital signs absent) on Christmas all in one 12-hour shift.” — Casidhe Kusmanko

“Christmas is the hardest one for sure.” — Jamie Pieterbon

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“I think more [about] New Year’s Eve. There are a lot of alcohol-related events and a lot of major car accidents.” — Gopi Kanagalingm

Choosing a career of service

“It’s definitely a career that’s very different from your every day, 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday jobs. It’s a career that we’ve chosen and it’s a life of service, and we’ve decided that we’re going to dedicate these times to helping others.” — Const. Alex Li

“My dad was a firefighter … you just work when you work and you serve the community, and I guess it trickled down to me and I followed the same footsteps.” — Jamie Pieterbon

“I was looking for something that would be a challenge in a job. I had worked in an office for a number of years … and when I was looking for a career change, I came to this career and discovered it was manageable.” — Sarah Salvis

— With files from Jamie Mauracher

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