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Working on Christmas: Making sacrifices for others

FRANKLIN, Ind. — Though she doesn't get to open presents that morning with her own family, Kim Gallman gets to spend her Christmas watching new families be made.

Gallman, a maternity nurse at Johnson Memorial Hospital, will work on Christmas this year — as she has many times in her 16 years as a nurse. Though she won't get to spend the first half of the day with her teenage kids, she enjoys getting to see new parents as they welcome their Christmas babies into the world, she said.

"It's kind of fun to get to share such an awesome memory with people on such a special day," she said.

Her own family has gotten used to her Christmas work shifts, and they open presents on Christmas Eve. While she misses spending Christmas morning with them, they understand that a hospital can never shut down, she said.

Every year, police officers, doctors, nurses and firefighters and a growing list of other employees work on Christmas. They have to move plans with their families, change travel days and open presents early in order to keep a variety of operations running through a day when most people stay home with their families.

Greenwood firefighter Matt Perkins will have to cut the time he usually spends with his family in Cincinnati this year. He'll work from 6?a.m. to 6?p.m. this Christmas. He and his wife, Laura Perkins, usually spend the night at his parents' home on Christmas Eve then drive to her family's house and spend the day after Christmas with them.

But the trip to Cincinnati was moved forward to Monday, and Perkins couldn't spend the night this year. Usually he'd have time to open gifts, have dinner and play games with this family, but the celebration was cut somewhat short so he could get back for work, he said.

"It's hard sometimes to miss out on those things," he said. "But you also get things and rewards at this job that you wouldn't get at a normal nine to five."

The station has a big dinner for all the firefighters each year on Christmas, and they invite all their families to attend. There, the Perkinses will be treated to some Mexican food, courtesy of one firefighter's wife. The nontraditional Christmas meal will go with the nontraditional family the firefighters have created together, he said.

"The first few times you work Christmas it feels weird," he said. "But we still celebrate in our own way here. It's a different kind of family."

Firefighters at the Bargersville Fire Department like to blast Christmas music all day and spend the hours preparing a holiday meal for family members who will come later in the day for gifts and dinner, Lt. Tom Tharpe said.

Tharpe, who says his culinary skills stretch as far as boiling water, plans to have his wife and kids attend the dinner this year. He'll work from 7?a.m. Christmas morning to 7?a.m. the next day.

Plans will have to be changed this year to work around his schedule. Instead of getting up early Christmas morning to open gifts, the family will stay up late and open them at midnight Christmas Eve, he said. His kids, Riley Tharpe, 14, Gabrielle Tharpe, 12, and Eliza Tharpe, 6, are disappointed that he'll miss Christmas Day, but he's told them that if he didn't work, they wouldn't get to open their presents early, he said. They wish he would be there, but they understand that this is part of his job, he said.

He's just happy he'll get to see their faces when they open their gifts this year, especially that of his youngest daughter, who still believes in much of the magic of the holiday, he said.

Tharpe, a firefighter for 14 years, estimates that he has worked for about half of those Christmases.

"We miss our families; but with work like this, the families get used to it," he said.

Christmas with a parent at work is harder on kids when they are younger, Gallman said. Though her own are teenagers now and understand that she has to work, when they were little they were always upset to see their mom leave on such an important day, she said. The family always made sure to open gifts together, but they still wanted her to be there for a holiday that means so much when kids are little, she said.

"It's difficult with younger kids, but as they get older it becomes part of your lifestyle," she said.

Greenwood police officer Jason Holzleiter's children are still young enough that they don't know when Christmas should be, so they don't mind opening gifts a little early.

This year, because he works from 6?a.m. to 6?p.m., the kids, Aaden, 3, and Dylan, 5, will open their presents on Christmas Eve morning, Holzleiter said.

On Christmas, instead of going to see his parents with his wife and kids, he'll be out on the streets of Greenwood in a patrol car. Both he and his brother are police officers, so the family has gotten used to rearranging their Christmas gatherings. He spent time with his father the week before Christmas and planned to see his mother the week after.

The best thing is to view the shift as just like a regular day. The police have to work no matter what, he said.

"We have to provide this service like any other day," he said.

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Information from: Daily Journal, http://www.dailyjournal.net

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