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Firefighter's life a shuffling act
In honor of Thanksgiving, the Yuma Sun is spotlighting those who work to protect our community. This story is one in a series called Families Give Thanks.
Celebrating Thanksgiving on Friday is not unusual for Tyler Green.
Growing up with a firefighter dad meant shuffling around special occasions. If his dad was on duty for a holiday or birthday, then the family celebrated the day before or the day after.
“For me, that was the norm,” Tyler said.
A San Luis firefighter, 33-year-old Tyler is now doing the same kind of calendar shuffling his dad, San Luis Fire Chief Hank Green, did. This year, like many firefighters around the nation, Tyler will be on duty on Thursday.
His first daughter, expected in January, will also have to get used to Thanksgiving on Fridays.
But that doesn't mean he and his crew won't be marking the occasion. They've already planned the menu for a special dinner at the fire station. Everyone will pitch in, and some family members will surely drop by.
The crew is like his extended family, and the fire station his second home.
“They're like my brothers,” Tyler noted.
Of course, there's always the possibility that they'll be called away on an emergency. In that case, they'll pick up where they left off when they get back.
That's the life of a firefighter. They must be ready to go at a moment's notice. They must adapt.
“Birthdays, sports events, a recital, somebody is always on duty. You make adjustments. Kids understand Dad can't make it, but there will be other times,” Hank said.
The 60-year-old Yuma native raised two children, including daughter Mauren, with wife Pam. During his 31-year career, there have been missed birthdays, missed anniversaries, missed soccer games, missed recitals. Sometimes Santa didn't show up until the day after Christmas.
“Our families are tolerant about our unusual work schedule. They'll move things a day forward or back. I'm very grateful for that,” Hank said.
It might mean having Thanksgiving dinner with their fire department crew and, the next morning, leftovers at mom's.
The life of a firefighter calls for adjustments even on “normal” days. And family members are usually the ones doing the adjusting.
“Our wives must also adapt. The day the dog gets out, the day there is a family crisis, if the wife's car doesn't start, she has to deal with it,” Hank said.
But that's also when the firefighter brotherhood comes into play, he added. “We still help each other. We'll often call an off-duty firefighter. Can you give her a jump?”
However, a shift work schedule is not all bad. “It has its advantages. Dad can be there for the ice cream sale on Friday. He can go on field trips,” Hank said.
His son agrees. “At times it was difficult to understand, but now that I look at it, sometimes Dad was home four days in a row. If our grades were good, we had a fun day with Dad. We'd go to the movies and do something fun for a whole day,” Tyler recalled.
Neither do firefighters lack opportunities to celebrate. They get invited to the special occasions in each others' families.
“You're the uncle, not by blood, but it's still like you're related,” Tyler explained.
They also have family cookouts at the station, with grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and jumping castles for the kids.
“We try to minimize the impact on our families, our wives,” Hank said.
Hank noted that this way of life is common among firefighters across the country.
“I would like the readers to understand that, although we're the ones you're writing about, every fire station will have a crew on duty this Thanksgiving. There are a lot of firefighters everywhere doing the same thing,” he said.
For the Green family, firefighting is a family tradition, with Tyler the third generation. Hank has been a firefighter since the summer of ‘71, when he started as a paid volunteer in Yuma. He followed in the footsteps of an uncle, who retired as a fire captain.
“It's a respectful career. It gives you the ability to do something that has a positive impact on somebody, the ability to make that difference. It's an opportunity to do good things for good people,” Hank explained.
He has a lot to be thankful for, he said. “I've survived relatively healthy. I'm also grateful for the opportunity the City of San Luis afforded me six years ago and the city of Yuma for preparing me and for what they allowed me to do.”
After 31 years, 18 of those on shift, Hank is looking forward to retirement in less than two years. He can't wait to spend his free time spoiling his yet-unborn granddaughter and spending more time with his family.
In spite of growing up with a firefighter dad, Tyler didn't plan on being a firefighter. When he needed an extra class, he chose an EMT/firefighting course “and loved it.” He's now in his 12th year.
Tyler is thankful for the support he receives from his wife and family and friends. “It's huge.”