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Kan. firefighters discuss working during holidays

Firefighter: “I won’t say I’ve gotten used to it, but I’ve learned to adjust to it.”

By Mike Kessinger
The Hays Daily News

HAYS, Kan. — At any time, the call might come and the members of the Hays Fire Department ‘A’ shift will be off and out of the firehouse for whatever is needed of them.

It’s around noon on Thanksgiving, though, and for the moment, the six members of the unit in the house are taking it easy for the time being. They have all done their equipment check and inspection around the fire engines.

It’s rare the group would have the chance to all sit around the table in the kitchen area, watching the football game.

It’s also a time for them to have a potluck of various Thanksgiving food lined up in the kitchen and just relax.

But today, the shift team has that opportunity until called into action. The group arrived at 7 a.m. and was at the house until 7 this morning.

“Hopefully, we won’t have a lot going on,” Lt. Tyler Brungardt said. “We checked our equipment this morning, and we clean the place up a little, and we’ll just be taking calls all day. Holidays are usually a little slower for us. We just kind of slow down and take some time to relax, have some time together.”

Down Main Street four blocks from the firehouse, Hays Police Sgt. Mitch Berens sits in an office working on some papers. It’s more quiet around the building on this day, but it’s a necessity that Berens and a smaller staff are there.

“I am extremely grateful for these officers,” Police Chief Don Scheibler said of the staff working the holiday. “They sacrifice their time away from their families on these days, and I really appreciate all of their families for allowing them to do that. I’m grateful they’re willing to give their time to work on these days.”

Unlike the fire department being able to spend more individual time around each other on the holiday, those working in the police department are scattered throughout the building, then the officers also will do their usual patrol in the city limits. It was a much more calm day than most by early afternoon. Berens and his staff patrol the area watching the streets, many of which are deserted more often than another day.

“Today has been fairly quiet so far,” Berens said.

In the large exercise room next to the kitchen in the upstairs of the firehouse, there is space for a table and plenty of seating. Firefighter Keith Mermis, who has been in the department for 16 years, sits at the table for a Thanksgiving lunch with his wife, Jennifer, and their five children, Tanner, 20, Conner, 17, twins Nick and Haley, 11, and Preston, 9. It’s an opportunity the department allots to the members to have time with their families for such a moment. Other firefighters’ family will stop by at some point.

“He’s definitely missed at home on days like this,” Jennifer Mermis said of Keith. “So it’s nice we can come and just spend time here with him. This is just part of the business.”

During a moment they can step away from work, the staff at the police station will take time to partake in the potluck in their breakroom across the hall from the dispatcher’s office, where communications department members Brian Meis and Rachel Kraus are working this Thanksgiving — with a number of computer monitors sitting in front of them. Around the table in the breakroom, Berens sits with officers Colin Roe and Wade Park. It is a rare moment they are all given to be able to be sitting in there at the same time, enjoying lunch together.

“I won’t say I’ve gotten used to it, but I’ve learned to adjust to it,” Meis said of working the holiday. “My family is good about scheduling around it. I really like this job, so it’s just something I’ve learned to schedule around.”

It’s a life the fire and police departments have been accustomed to living in Hays while working holidays. But for many of them, they wouldn’t have it any other way. For both units, they are happy it’s about serving the public, and in a way, becoming a family within the unit.

“It all depends on the rotation of who is working,” Berens said. “It’s however it falls.”

Copyright 2016 The Hays Daily News