Holiday is time to work for first responders, others in county

McHENRY – The Christmas shift was pretty slow for Jordan Lobitz, the operations manager at the McHenry Downtown Theatre, mostly, he thinks, because of the snow.

“People are happier [than normal],” he said. “They also want to tip you, which never happens any other day of the year. It’s more families, too.”

Lobitz doesn’t take the tips, he said. He recommends they donate them instead to the FISH of McHenry Food Pantry, which the theater collects food for.

The theater also played host to sailors from Naval Station Great Lakes, a part of the day Lobitz particularly enjoys.

With a carbon monoxide alarm going off, three reports of smelling a gas leak and a couple of ambulance calls, the seven-member crew at McHenry Township Fire Protection District’s Station 1 had a busier day.

They also helped out an older woman who wanted to visit her family but couldn’t get in and out of her home without help.

“It’s Christmas,” Captain Joe Foreman said. “It’s goodwill to the community. If they wanted us to do it every day, then maybe someone would say, maybe you need to build a ramp, but it’s Christmas. It’s a one-time thing.”

The firefighters also had to take care of their regular duties, including washing the truck, doing a couple loads of laundry and cleaning the bathroom and other common areas.

“I like to work Christmas,” firefighter Jenny Winkler said. “Christmas is always busy. You get the most variety, from people who want an ambulance and people who don’t, people who need an ambulance and people who don’t.”

That’s part of the reason she signed up to work, she said. Plus, her family usually celebrates Christmas with a Christmas Eve brunch, and then she spends her holiday with her “other family,” the fire service.

A Western theme song plays whenever an ambulance pulls up to the dock at Centegra Hospital – McHenry, and during the emergency room’s rush, which usually hits about 6 to 8 p.m., it played about every 15 minutes.

Christmas Day brought in two patients with wrist fractures from skiing accidents. Two had airway obstructions, a more common occurrence around the holidays. A woman in room 22 had been punched by her boyfriend.

The hospital will also see more incidents related to mental health and depression, and sometimes visiting family will bring in their parents who they hadn’t seen in a while, nurse Nancy Lesko said.

With the hospital pretty much staffed like any other day, the employees try to accommodate everyone’s plans, trading Christmas Day and Christmas Eve based on family preferences and trying to give those with young kids the morning off.

With everything under control in the emergency department, nurse Sara Kaczmareck was able to steal a few extra hours Wednesday morning.

“I would rather not work during the day,” said the mother of a 5-, 6- and 8-year-old. “You miss Santa stuff.”

Lesko was also able to come in a bit late, too, from a morning spent at her sister’s in her pajamas with a cup of coffee, watching her nieces and nephews open presents – though in her family with a retired nurse for a mom and two sisters in health care, rescheduled holidays are a fact of life.

That’s how holidays have always been for firefighter Kevin Betke, too.

With a family of firefighters – his cousin, Brian Haag, was at Station 2 while he worked a shift at Station 1 – it’s just something he got used to growing up.

“Days like today are pretty fun, laid back,” Betke said, as “The Santa Clause 2” played on the TV and donated treats were laid out on the table, the remnants of a Christmas lunch complete with ham, steak, potatoes and green beans provided by the fire district.

(NOTE TO READERS: This story was updated to correct the name of a nurse.)

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