Christmas on the Job

WHEELING – As Kevin Kettler heads out to work the 5 a.m. shift today as a police sergeant, he hopes to take a break later this morning to see his children enjoy what Santa Claus tucked under the Christmas tree.

“I work day shift, so it’s not that bad,” Kettler said while manning the front desk Tuesday.

Kettler is among the many Ohio Valley first responders who never get an official “day off” and who also must work holidays such as Christmas. Chief among them are law enforcement, firefighters and medical personnel. Kettler typically works every Christmas because other officers who have more seniority get to choose their holidays off and vacations first, he said.

“Some Christmases there is not a single call and it’s very, very quiet,” Kettler said. “Others there are a lot of fights, stabbings and shots fired. It’s the same with New Year’s – you can spend the entire shift breaking up fights.”

Wheeling Fire Department Lt. Paul McIntire also is working today and hoping for a quiet day not just for himself, but for the residents he serves. While a fire or medical call can become a tragedy any day of the year, McIntire said those that occur on a holiday can be especially hard on people. Many decide not to celebrate for years to come.

“I feel sorry for the families. … If someone passes away, it wears on the families,” he said.

McIntire, who has worked at the department for 21 years, doesn’t personally recall responding to any large fires on Christmas Day. But he does remember a few on other holidays. He cited a Thanksgiving on which he worked a blaze that burned the former MH&M shoe store in the downtown during the late 1990s. On New Year’s Eve 2009, firefighters simultaneously fought house fires in South Wheeling and North Wheeling. While responding to the South Wheeling fire, McIntire said he fell through the first floor and landed atop a refrigerator that also crashed into the basement.

Wheeling Fire Assistant Chief Paul Harto remembers fighting a fire early Christmas morning 1989 near 12th and Wood streets.

“It was a three-alarm fire in a three-story apartment building. It was 5 degrees below zero,” Harto said.

McIntire said today, the firefighters will do their usual chores before enjoying a dinner of turkey or ham together and watching a movie in the evening.

On Tuesday, Ohio County Sheriff’s Deputy R.T. Clouston was working security in the lobby of the City-County Building with guard Larry Manning. Manning, a former Wheeling police officer who retired in 1997 after 20 years of service, said he worked a few Christmas Days in the past, but no particular event stood out in his mind.

Clouston said he doesn’t mind working Christmas.

“The past two have been pretty quiet. Hopefully it will be the same this year. Last year I didn’t have a single call the entire shift,” Clouston said.