Knowing we are safe with family on holidays is priceless

(Editor’s Note: This is a reprint of a column that first appeared in the Highline Times in 2003.)

Visions of sugarplums or dandy new computers may dance in our head as Santa warms up his trusty reindeer for another gift-giving trip; yet it is the freedom to know that we are safe with our loved ones to celebrate holidays that is priceless.

Firefighters found long overdue appreciation during the 9/11 “Twin Towers Disaster.” Police officers killed in the line of duty have made it very real to us the everyday danger they face. When they are just “doing their job” we tend to forget how important they are to our quality of life.

Police and firefighters have a 24 hours, 7days a week job – including holidays. When we are eating turkey they may be busting a burglar. When we give gifts they may be giving life.

It’s their career choice. Still, for anyone who must leave their family to work on special days, including medical and transportation personnel, family days are gone forever.

Children grow up with or without them. There is no going back to capture lost “family memories.”

It was Christmas Eve in the early 1970s when Assistant Fire Chief Dave Lawrence, of Des Moines King County Fire District 26 was part of a crew responding to a fire call. The house was filled with heavy stifling smoke that trapped the husband upstairs and two young daughters in a basement bedroom. They died. The cause? A candle that fell over igniting a Christmas tree into a tower of smoke and flames.

Another tragedy involved a little boy leaving the former Zenith Grocery store after a piano lesson. As the child stepped outside a car spun out of control. When Lawrence arrived, the boy was under that car.

“I did the best I could do for the little one –-the child died. When I went home I saw that boy in the face of my children,” Lawrence said. “The way I deal with these tragedies, just personally, is to focus on those we saved and know everything that could be done was done to save the others.

“If I allow my head to hang too low I can’t be prepared for the next call. And I have to be prepared when that bell rings again.”

During holidays firefighters ask you to take these precautions.
Water the Christmas tree daily. If needles fall off easily on touch get rid of the tree – Christmas or not!

Use good electrical cords.

Put candles in approved containers and keep them away from mirrors. The reflection magnifies heat intensity.

“Real world things happen--crime does not take a holiday,” Des Moines Police Commander John O’Leary said. “One of the saddest things for me has been to take someone ‘in custody’ on a family- oriented holiday, particularly when it is for domestic violence.”

Another heartbreaker is dealing with the aftermath of a drunken driver who caused an accident. Innocent people are injured and killed. Whole families and friends are impacted by the disaster.

Robberies, theft, assault and domestic violence crimes spike during holidays. A season of joy transformed into a time of devastation for the sake of “just one more drink for the road.”

The spirit of community caring extends beyond paid shifts for firefighters and police officers. Des Moines police reserve officers have solicited donations for the Des Moines Food Bank.

Firefighters from Burien King County Fire District 2 (KCFD) began a “Christmas Outreach” program to provide holiday food and gifts to deserving families. John Zilkes, the district’s fire inspector, coordinates this event saying, “ We have found tremendous community support by Highline Hospital, local businesses and citizens.” North Highline KCFD11, and Des Moines KCFD26 have joined KCFD2 in this program. Many volunteers sort, wrap and pack items. Qualified local families are identified through the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

Des Moines Rotary Club incorporated their longtime successful Christmas food baskets and gifts program into the Christmas Outreach operation also. Member Brian Snure said, “We make a cash donation for food, our individual members supply gifts for 8 to 12 adopted families and fire department volunteers do the legwork.

And then the big day arrives! Dec. 23rd, shiny red fire engines, staffed by Santa Claus himself with fire department friends, hit the road and the sight is inescapable as they wind through neighborhoods.

The magic begins when they stop at a home. I am told kids eyes open wide in wonder and adults often smile through tears of joy.

A community has given to help it’s own – and it feels so right.

Lawrence said, “This is a great time of fun for us. Normally, when we are called to a citizen’s home it is in a time of emergency. We love being part of such a happy time.”

In reply, I believe I can speak for the people of our communities when I say “A sincere thank you to our firefighters and police officers who work to keep us safe year-round.”

Be it myth or fact that Santa exists, lyrics of the ballad, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” (Clement Clarke Moore) swirl in my head:
“He had a broad face and a little round belly,
that shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
I heard him exclaim as he rode out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!”

(Footnote: Dear Readers, Thank you for inviting me into your home this year. Happy Holidays!)

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